The body makes the whole area stink, yet it is the body of a loved one and Ashton feels no revulsion at the smell. No, he feels no revulsion at all, just a stinging sadness. A sadness that chokes up his throat with grief, a sadness that pushes bitter salty tears to his eyes, it is the sadness of extreme loss.
The wooden floor to the modest one bedroom cottage is caving in at many parts, and small marsh insects crawl about haphazardly. Ashton is sure that his lover's body is filled with insects, he feels even more sad when he thinks about it.
The bottle of vodka in his right hand calls to him and he brings it to his lips downing a large burning swallow of it. The alcohol runs warm in his system and gives him the courage to leave the decaying kitchen and move to the bedroom.
He steels himself and pushes open the bedroom door, the smell is fifteen times worse as soon as he opens up the rotten wooden portal. His heart is beating an insane tattoo in his chest as the sight of her body greets his vision.
She is lying half on and half off of the old mattress, her feet have been unceremoniously pushed through the floor. She looks like she is sitting in an upside down recliner. Her beautiful face lies rotten in a pool of its own liquids.
She is naked, Ashton thinks about how many times he had made love to her. Ashton needs to look at something other than the body and turns to the bookcase by his left. The bookcase is crammed full of sci-fi novels, and poetry books; she had always been very well read. He traces his finger along the spines of the books, everything from Vonnegut to Wordsworth.
It is while looking over the books that he begins to feel a presence in the room, at first it is just like a warmth right next to him. The warmth is not unpleasant, yet it is still a bit frightening, Ashton takes another sip of vodka to try and dismiss the sensation.
It doesn't work.
If anything, the sip of vodka made the warmth next to him seem all the more real. He closes his eyes and chokes back a sob, he was raised in a family where it is never okay for boys to cry. Trying to bottle up the grief only makes it stronger, and he is reminded of when he met her.
It had been in a smoky café, it was a Thursday night. In that café every Thursday night was open mike night. Ashton had never participated in open mike night, but he loved to go and watch the aspiring poets. He had been smoking a clove, and drinking a coffee and rum mixed drink when she had walked up to the microphone.
That night she was dressed in a long black skirt, and was wearing a white tee shirt that had "PEACE NOW", printed on it in bold black letters. Ashton had been sneaking glances at her all night long, but when she opened her mouth and started her first poem Ashton had become infatuated. Her voice itself was like sex, her voice was delicate yet heavy, alluring yet assertive.
Ashton smiles as he remembers the first poem she had read, it had been heartbreaking, it had been called "When I Die." He brings the bottle back to his dry lips and takes another long drink. He places his free hand to his face and wipes away a tear that had sprung up unbidden. Her bitter sweet poem runs through his head unceasingly.
"When I die," Ashton whispers under his breath.
"What will become of all my beautiful memories? The sun-soaked pleasures of bygone days?."
Ashton stifles a sob, the feeling of warmth next to him is no longer just a feeling of warmth, no, now there is the feeling of a entity next to him.
"When I die, what will happen to those days on the beach? The ones I spent with the wind in my hair and just feeling right?" He can no longer resist it, the recitation of his lost love's poem causes him to break down into tears. He weeps loudly in the stinking room with his back turned to the body of his lover.
After he finishes weeping he presses the bottle roughly up to his mouth and drains it.
Ashton now turns around; he is as ready to face the body as he ever will be. He takes a step towards it, he moves lightly incase the floor should decide to collapse under his weight.
"Oh Cheree, oh my poor sweet Che." He says addressing the mutilated corpse. "Oh how I loved you Cheree."
"I loved you to. I still do."
" I can't hardly believe you're gone," A sob, " You were so beautiful, even in death you are still beautiful."
"Please don't be sad. I don't hurt anymore."
"It's just that," Ashton's voice trails off in a sad whimper, "No one will listen to me. No one believes that you are dead."
He moves slightly closer to the exquisite corpse, the floor is damp under his feet and he kneels down trying to spread his weight across it more evenly. He inches ever closer to the body and touches it tentatively on the nape of the neck. Even in death her skin is soft and beautiful.
A beetle crawls across Ashton's finger and he brushes it off of Cheree's corpse.
"I've been trying really hard to understand, but I can't."
Ashton waits for a reply, but all he can hear is the hum of crickets in the bayou outside. Growing increasingly more bold he rubs the back of the decaying body's neck, he runs his hand through her hair and gently kisses her cheek.
"That feels good, I do miss your kisses."
Ashton shifts his weight slightly and wraps his arms around Cheree's body's waist, he is going to pick her up and carry her out. He needs to bury her.
He slowly makes his way to his feet, the body is very light and easy to move, but he can hear the floor complain under him. As Ashton is lifting up his lover's dead body he thinks about how happy she had been to move out to this little cottage. She was going to come out here and live by herself, she wanted to live with just herself and her books. She had thought in doing so she would be able to finish her novel. "I'll be living just like Henry David Thoreau did!" She had said excitedly to Ashton before she moved.
As Ashton is lifting the body up it's feet get caught on the jagged edges of the hole that they had fallen in. There is a sickening sound as rotten matter sloughs off of the feet and falls into the swamp below.
"Don't worry baby, that only hurt a little bit."
Ashton tries his best to ignore the thought of causing poor Cheree any more pain and focuses on moving her inert body. It only takes a few more breathless seconds for Ashton to finish lifting the body up and drape it over his shoulder.
It is not ten seconds after Ashton gets the body over his shoulder that the floor beneath his feet begins to give away. 'No!' Ashton thinks, filled with panic. The floor causes a great bit off racket and then collapses through, Ashton and the body fall through the hole along with the bed. The floor falls through in an ever widening circle and Ashton watches as it does from his descent.
Ashton's descent doesn't end, he and Cheree's body hit the marsh below around the same time, but Ashton continues falling. He watches in terror as he falls through the Earth, eventually the horror of the fall is so great that he blacks out briefly.
When Ashton comes to his vision is surrounded by red, his concept of self seems greatly distorted. He looks at himself from above himself, and he seems to be a single celled organism. He floats around in a horrible red mess of primordial soup, and then he is consumed.
The consumption is from a creature far greater than he, a flat headed black beast with razor sharp teeth. Oddly enough the creature makes no use of its sharp teeth, and instead swallows Ashton's single celled self whole.
He floats down the monster's purple gullet evolving as he does, Ashton watches in stark terror as he performs mitoses. His cells populate themselves at a rate so rapid that he out grows the esophagus of the monster and bursts forth from it.
He rises forth screaming from the pain of rebirth, he is covered in a green ichor that is the blood of the predator that swallowed him. The predator now lies dead at Ashton's feet.
Ashton takes in his surroundings, the ceiling above him appears to be the bottom side of the swamp. Damp mud drips down from the ceiling, yet the ceiling doesn't collapse in. It is as if an invisible bubble is creating the chamber Ashton is now standing in.
The floor beneath him is soft and red, blue and purple lines the size and consistency of tree roots criss-cross around his feet. It takes a moment, but then it hits Ashton, he is standing on a giant tongue! He is standing in the mouth of the swamp!
The mouth is illuminated by a source that Ashton cannot seem to find. Panic fills his being and he dearly wishes that his Cheree was with him. Ashton runs to the front of the mouth towards the stalactite sized teeth. He pounds his fist against the teeth, but it is to no avail. The interlocking barrier makes no indication of opening.
Quite upset and frustrated Ashton sits down and contemplates his situation. No matter how he tries to wrap his head around it, he can't seem to make sense of anything. 'To be honest' he thinks to himself "Since Cheree left to go to this godforsaken swamp nothing makes sense."
For the second time today Ashton weeps.
As if triggered by the weeping the saliva glands in the giant mouth squirt their burning contents into the cavern, and the warm acidic bath hits Ashton with a titanic force. He and the carcass of the smaller beast are flooded down the cavern into what is anatomically a giant throat.
For the second time today Ashton is swallowed whole. And miraculously for the second time today Ashton finds that in the process of being ingested he begins to grow. As he is rolling down the esophagus of the swamp his body begins to expand. 'Yes, yes!' He thinks, he wills his body to continue its rampant growth unchecked.
Before too long he is caught in the throat of the swamp, the swamp is choking on him! He presses his arms outward, saliva rushes past him trying to push him down. The stinging liquid does not succeed in aiding the swamp to swallow Ashton.
'Come on, keep growing." Ashton begs his body. The further expansion his body undergoes is very painful, Ashton can feel his bones breaking and the re-growing longer, stronger, wider. And then he bursts forth into the light of the moon.
There is a moment of sheer terror as Ashton sees tendrils of moss wrapping around his ankles trying to pull him back into the ground. He resists strongly, refusing to go back into the muddy grave. His overtaxed muscles shriek under the exertion, but he manages to break free.
Ashton spends a panicked moment looking around to make sure that no further attacks from the moss are made against him. After a brief, breathless moment he realizes that the swamp seems to have given up. He then sees Cheree's body lying inert not more than a couple of yards away.
Then Ashton realizes that his eye level is a lot higher than it used to be. He takes inventory of his body; the growth that he experienced in the gullet of the swamp has nearly doubled him in height. He has to be at least ten feet tall now!
Ashton walks up to Cheree's body and picks it up gently, cradling it in his arms like he would a small child. He kisses it gently on its ivory forehead.
"Oh my sweet Cheree," he says softly. A single tear falls from his eye onto Cheree's naked breast, "I guess even big men cry."
And then out of the corner of his eye Ashton sees something. He turns to face it, it is the warm presence he had felt earlier that night. Now the presence has taken form and it is quite obviously Cheree's spirit.
Cheree's spirit is dressed in a lovely white dress, and she seems to radiate warmth and goodness. She walks up to the man that was her lover in life and places a soft hand on his arm. Ashton smiles at this caress.
"When I die, what will become of all my beautiful memories?
What will become of the sun-soaked pleasures of bygone days?
What will become of the days I spent on the beach?
The days I spent with the wind in my hair and just feeling right?
What will my friends and family do?
Will I have a big funeral, with a nice memorial
Placed above my head?
Or will I lie alone, so alone?
Until the cold of the earth swallows me whole?"