I love a challenge.
At one of the first Drollerie Press chats, Deena challenged me to write a zombie romance. I mean, how could anyone pull off someone falling in love with a dead creature that hungers for brains? Ewwww, right? But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t look away from the horrific thing revealing itself in my mind.
Broken Angel does involve zombies, and does involve a love story. I’d even say it has a happy ever after (waaaaaay ever after!) — but I wouldn’t call it “romance.” It’s quite gruesome. So in that respect, I may have failed the challenge. Angelina’s story wouldn’t let me go, though, until I discovered why she was haunted by this horrible dream. It’s a short story, so I can’t share much of an excerpt without giving the whole thing away, but here’s the opening section for your enjoyment.
The full story is available in the Bump in the Night anthology.
Standing on a bridge curtained with willows and blooming vines, I saw her in the crystal water flowing beneath the stone arch. At first, she looked perfect: lovely porcelain face, large sparkling eyes, and flowing silken ribbons of gold framing her angelic features. Beautiful, she rose from the gurgling stream, floated up to the bridge like dandelion fluff. She smiled with that Cupid’s bow mouth and walked toward me, stiff and jerky like a mindless robot.
Dread rolled through me, a drowning darkness of cold waters. I couldn’t breathe. My head pounded, my heart struggled to beat. Ice encased my hands, my feet, inching up my arms and legs. I wanted to run before she came any closer, but I was frozen immobile.
Dead leaves rained down; brittle flowers crumpled to dust; ice covered me. My face was stiff and cold, my eyes wide open and staring. Just like that horrible, perfect doll marching toward me with grim joviality.
From the other dreams, I knew there was something horrible about her face, something so terrifying that I couldn’t remember. I didn’t want to remember. I didn’t want to look.
Peaches and cream complexion, once smooth and symmetrical, now drooped. The eye on the right sat lower on her face, her mouth tugging down into a grimace. A dark slash cut across her forehead, another down her cheek. She stumbled forward, clutching a heavy gold watch, links of chain woven between her wooden fingers. I stared, frozen like a dumb animal, as that face broke open. Porcelain cracked away to reveal…
Screaming, I jerked awake. I clawed at the blankets, flailing toward the edge of our king-sized bed.
My husband reached for me, mumbling, “What’s wrong?”
Relieved, I sank back onto the pillows and rolled into his embrace. Even woken from sleep, his voice echoed with command. He was a man used to leadership, wealthy enough to purchase the best doctors and provide exclusive, expensive care for me. He loved me. I remembered that much.
A wave of nausea flooded my stomach, burning up my throat. I really didn’t want to see any more doctors. Perhaps one—the one who … My head hurt. Yes, he’d taken care of my head. After the accident. The bridge. Pain exploded. Why couldn’t I remember his face? His name? He saved me. Images fluttered through my mind like loose papers, blowing leaves, gone in an instant.
Pillowing my face on Robert’s chest, I tried to calm my thoughts. “I was dreaming. Oh, it was horrible. That doll, her broken face …”
Shuddering, I couldn’t tell him the worst of the nightmare. She was me. I was her. What does that mean?
“That same old nightmare again? Go back to sleep, dear.”
His dismissive attitude stung. Rather, it would have hurt if I could feel anything. I was suddenly aware that I was fully awake, yet I was still numb to my surroundings. His bare chest was beneath my cheek, but I felt no heat from him. I smelled nothing from his skin. Hadn’t he always smelled of cologne, even at night? His chest hairs should tickle, yet I felt nothing but the rise and fall of his chest. Panic gnawed in the pit of my stomach, twisting me into knots.
He made a sound of pain and took my hand in his, lifting my fingers away from his skin where I’d gouged my nails into him. “That hurts, Angelina. What’s wrong?”
I couldn’t speak for the dread choking me. I was still the doll, but I was awake. He rolled up onto his forearm and smiled down at me. Didn’t terror flash in my eyes, dark with the screams of nightmares? Or was it the blank stare of the doll? Which was worse?
He kissed me, murmuring against my mouth. I felt the pressure of his lips, but not the heat or wetness, nor the scratch of his mustache. I clutched him harder, pushing him over onto his back and climbing onto him. Nothing. No heat, no sweaty glide of flesh on flesh. Yet he threw his head back and groaned deep in his throat, his hips arching up beneath me.
He was inside me, and I couldn’t feel it. His hands gripped my hips, pulling me into a rocking rhythm that my body knew but didn’t feel. No stirring fire burned in me. Nothing but this spreading blackness of fear. I plunged harder, faster, desperation driving me to feel something, anything. He drew me down and whispered, “Are you ready? I’m coming, oh, my love …”
Nothing. I couldn’t even cry. He shuddered and made a masculine purr of satisfaction as he rolled to his side and tucked me down beside him. “I like these nightmares of yours.”
I lay there, silent, frozen, strangled with betrayal. How could he be so blind, so oblivious? Didn’t he see? Couldn’t he feel the coldness in my unresponsive body?
The reality was worse than the doll’s nightmare.