by Elisa Davidson

The dead are always starving. Craving our food, our love, everything that fills us up and keeps us warm at night. The gnawing hunger that filled them in life reaches out and snatches them from peaceful release, dragging them back into the world of the living. They become shells of who they were, aimlessly searching for the one thing that could release them from endless torment.

On the third day of that week, Micheal went to feed his wife. 

The sun shone thinly, veiled by a layer of clouds. His footsteps fell weakly on the grass; only a slight crunch at his step. Rain threatened to fall, and Micheal winced as he looked up at the sky. Yet, rain was a good sign. It had been so scarce that month, the world seemed to be holding its breath. Even the sun seemed to barely shine, only a breath of wind ever passing into the valley. And the rain? The clouds swelled more and more with each day, yet–

His bag bounced slightly with all of the food he had picked: thick ripe tomatoes, fresh green cucumbers, and lettuce flushed with youth. Beef cooked to perfection and glazed with sauces to enhance the juiciness of this freshly butchered meal. Water, fresh and cool, he had only just pulled it from the well this morning. It had been difficult, ever so difficult, to find vegetables not dead and dried by the drought. But he’d only ever needed a few. 

She was waiting for him, her dress flapping lightly in the breeze. The earth below her was churned, blankets tossed and turned from a rough night’s sleep. Aileen O’Connell stared at him, her face far from seeming like that of a human. Cracks in her skin curled and peeled, like a pale rendition of a child’s pottery project. Her once beautiful blue eyes stared into nothingness, dull and sightless. Micheal felt a shiver of fear pass through him. Was she even real, this woman who so barely resembled his wife? Or had his brain found a way to trick him, betray him in the most simple of ways? 

Her face pulled back into a smile, almost a grimace. “Micheal,” she rasped. “You’re here.”

Micheal smiled back, frightened. “Aileen,” he said, as warmly as he could. “I made you something, something I thought you’d enjoy. I’m sure you’ve missed the vegetables from the garden. And some meat as well, put some strength in your bones, hey?” 

She simply stared at him, her eyes seeming to stare right past his own into his soul. “You didn’t come for a while.” She said finally. 

Micheal swallowed. “Well you see, you said you were hungry,” he stammered. “And I only wanted to give you the best of food. I was worried, my dear, that I wouldn’t be able to tend to the garden as well if I was coming up all the way here so often. It’s just me now, after all, so I need to be as careful as possible.” 

For a minute, he seemed to almost detect sadness in her gaze. “I understand,” she said then, taking the sack from the floor and pulling out its contents. 

He stared numbly at her as her thin, bony hands explored the ground. Delicate as they’d always been. Those were hands he’d long gotten to know. Hands that had cooked late into the night, brushed his hair out of his face, pulled his laundry onto the clothesline every morning. But Aileen would never scrabble as this thing did. 

“You can go now, Micheal. Go, and bring me more food.” She pulled out a tomato, and turned it over in her hand, surveying it. She bit into the juicy, red flesh, and tomato seeds flew everywhere. Tearing into it like a ravenous animal, red splattered onto the floor, onto her face, over her clothes. She looked up at him, seeds spilling down her cheeks. “Bring me some more of these, please. I can almost taste it…”

Micheal stumbled back, his feet tripping over themselves as he ran away from the hill. Aileen had never eaten in such a way, always taking small, gentle bites of her food. Smiling gently, turning her eyes over things in a slight, exploratory way. A curious doe fascinated by the joys of the world had been his wife. This just could not be her. An angry ghoul perhaps, a trickster fairie trying to frighten him into submission. 

He’d fed her every week since the day the earth had broken, trying and hoping that she would finally have her fill. Every week, he would bring her a third of his food, and beg for her to go. 

It was as he arrived home that the rain began to fall in great, heavy drops that cascaded through the fields. He growled as he felt the rain plastering his hair to his head, shaking himself angrily. He walked towards the stove, working with clumsy fingers at the coffee pot. Like tar, the strong, black liquid trickled into his mug. Micheal sipped it quickly, making a face. “Tastes like tar too,” he mumbled to himself. He laid down in his chair, feeling weak. For the first time in his life, he felt so completely and utterly alone. It had been like this ever since Aileen had died, only a couple of months ago. He’d so desperately wished she truly wasn’t dead, that she would return. 

Until she did. 

How was he meant to know why his wife, once so beautiful and charming, now scrabbled at her headstone begging to be fed? 

She’d never gone hungry with him, that he knew. She’d never gone without anything. Food, clothing, money of any kind. Music, talk, laughter, it had all filled their home once. She had been happy, light, and carefree. In the morning he’d left for the fields, and in the evening he’d returned to see her cheerfully waving for him in the yard. She’d prepared him dinner every evening, a carefully roasted steak with a heaping of potatoes, sometimes a rare gooseberry pie. They’d read in the living room, each with their own little chairs leaning against the lamplight. Their life had been good. Perfect even. 

Yet some cruel being had taken it upon itself to make his life a living hell. And he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what he’d done to deserve such a thing.

The dead are hungry for the life they could have lived. If they didn’t live the way they wanted, that is. Their purpose isn’t fulfilled, not the way they wished. Their life was hollow, unlived, unloved. If you are happy, beware. They’re ready to take your soul, your food, your love, everything that fills you up. Maybe they will finally be able to fill their lungs with air again. 

The morning’s visit hadn’t gone the way Aileen planned. She’d gotten up early, before the sun had even risen, and gone down to the creek. She’d washed herself carefully, scraping every speck of dirt from herself. She’d spent nearly an hour on her hands, digging furiously at the soil caked under her fingernails until they were shining palely in the reflection of the water. 

She’d tried her best to look presentable for him, so he could at least be happy about seeing her. But instead of a cry of adoration, perhaps a warm embrace, a simple “How are you feeling, dear wife?” He’d stared. And mumbled. Her heart had sunk then, watching him. Stutter and stumble and run about. What on Earth was she doing, waiting for him to figure things out?

He knew the grave was too tight. That it cramped her legs every time she got in or out, that the dirt that closed around her made her want to cry and gag. It fell in clumps on her cheek at night, staining brown on her favorite dress. He knew she was still here. He had to. Why was he refusing her plea? 

She swallowed, feeling her lips crack as she breathed in, and out. She didn’t need to breathe. Hadn’t needed to ever since she’d woken up, all of those months ago. But her chest felt different without it. There was a hollowness there, as if her lungs remembered being filled with air and longed for it. 

Every day had been like this for her. A raw ache, a yearning never fulfilled. At first she thought it was for food, the way her stomach had clenched when those vegetables were placed in front of her. And yet, when she’d eaten then she gained no satisfaction. It frightened her, this hunger that rattled inside of her. She could feel it growing, day by day, and never was it closer to being satiated. 

“You’re dead Aileen. It’s time for you to leave.” Aileen wanted to leave. God, she wanted to escape this feeling of in-between. As much as she denied it, she knew her skin had never felt this paper-thin before.

When she was alive.

“What am I to do, Micheal? I cannot go,” she murmured, feeling her eyes turn red. A small tear, oily and strained, fell. 

“I couldn’t go even if I tried.”


The vegetables she clenched in her hands felt soft. Light. Nothing. She squeezed as tightly as she could, trying to gain any comfort from the feeling of the leaves. There was a slight pop, and suddenly it was everywhere. Red tomato juice ran down her hands, and Aileen failed to notice. She stared blankly at the man before her. 

“All this time. You’ve been trying to get me to leave,” she said, not asked. He simply stared back, the numbness in him as evident as hers. She nodded, slightly, as if a point had been confirmed. “You never cared.”

And all of a sudden, that was fine. It was all fine. She didn’t need him to care after all. She’d never needed him to care. She smiled bitterly and laughed then. It was a terrible laugh, an angry laugh that felt both wrong and right that shivered through her. 

“It’s all right. No, really!” She said, noticing his surprise. “I understand. It must have been difficult to have me around.” He nodded, relief showing in his gaze. “It must have been difficult,” she murmured. 

She laughed then, a bone-rattling cackle that sounded like the shaking of trees. “You’re scared of me, aren’t you?”

“I-I’d never be scared of you! I could never be scared of my wife,” he said, reaching out his arms pleadingly, letting the sack fall from his hands, “I just wanted you to eat well! I love you so much my dear, you really don’t understand-”

“You love me.” It was a statement, a question. Did he love her? As Micheal stared at the woman before him, he wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure when he’d stopped caring about the zombie of a person in front of him, and just wanted it gone. 

“If you loved me Micheal, you wouldn’t abandon me. If you loved me, you wouldn’t spend every day of your goddamn life trying to get rid of me. So I’m going to ask you again. Do you love me?” 

His shoulders slumped, and he leaned forward. “No,” he whispered in defeat. “No, I don’t love you anymore Aileen.” 

There was silence. 

“Do you know why I’m here, Micheal?” He raised himself up and looked at her. For a minute, his eyes clouded in confusion. 

“No,” he murmured. “No, I don’t.” 

“In life, I was starved. I was starved every day, in the comfort of my own home, every waking hour, from dawn to dusk. I was starved while having every need met.” 

Micheal stared at her. “But you weren’t, Aileen. You ate every day. I ate with you. You made those boiled potatoes, that gooseberry pie…” 

Aileen shook her head slightly, her grin more of a grimace now. “I was starved of affection, Micheal. I was starved of love. I was starved of happiness. And every day in that damn house was a reminder of that. When I died, I forgot all of that. I forgot how miserable I’d been living there, how I’d waited for the day someone would come to whisk me away. And then the hunger began…” 

“But we always got along so well together! I never heard a complaint, not once,” Micheal stammered, shooting to his feet. 

“How could I complain? ‘Micheal, you don’t love me, do better,’” She screeched, her beady eyes staring deep into his soul. He stumbled backward, clutching his chest. 

“But I did love you!” he managed to croak out, his heart pounding. She was shuffling closer to him, the look in her eyes dangerous now. He felt himself stumble backward, the rocks crumbling under his feet. “What have I done?” He sobbed, tears leaking from his eyes hot and fast. “What have I done to you Aileen?” 

“You ruined me.” She said this sadly, matter of factly. It was this that broke him. 

“Very well,” he said, first quietly. Then he repeated with more fervor, “VERY WELL!” Aileen froze, her eyes sparkling in the candlelight. Micheal nodded to himself, slightly. 

‘You’re right,” he murmured, his back curving even more under his grief, “I never did anything for you, my dear. I never made you happy, and I’m sorry for that. But I think I can do something for you still.” He held his arms out as if to embrace her. Aileen stared at him, not understanding. He smiled slightly, a glimmer of something in his eyes. “You’re hungry aren’t you?” There was a moment of silence, where only the wind hissed. The dark thunderclouds that clouded the landscape appeared to grow, blanketing the landscape under them. A single drop of rain fell, hitting the grass with a soft sound. Aileen met eyes with Micheal.  

The rain began to fall. 

Author Bio

Elisa Davidson is a last-semester senior Creative Writing major at Emerson College. She loves to write stories about the unusual and the thought-provoking. She has had works published in Atlas, Gauge, and EFS Magazines at Emerson, and will continue to write outside of college. 

Instagram: @elisadavison