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Rotting in Oregon -- fiction by Brinley Vaughn

I am truly sorry. Sorry to God, sorry to my mother, and most of all, sorry to my beautiful and lovely Eric.

Hermiston, Oregon. A beautiful place if you ever want to go. An even better place to fall in love. The sun hits your face at an angle. Your other half, unlit. Aside from the small beam that fortunately hits the iris on the opposite side of your face. Everything is cold. The hairs on your back stick up as chills fall throughout your body. Your mouth is dry. You remember. You remember everything. I’ve always hated myself. I never could figure out why. I always had an inkling that there was something off about me, and so did everyone around me. Maybe the left side of my face drooped lower than the other, or maybe it was the small patch of hair on my scalp that wouldn’t go down when I brushed it. Deep down I knew it wasn’t that. But I still couldn’t figure out what it was. Until I met Eric.

As a mortician, you never expect to be attracted to the dead. Or at least that’s what I imagined. I met Eric on a Sunday afternoon. Unreasonably dry that day. If you opened your mouth and let the air fly through, after you closed your mouth and felt around on the insides of your cheeks, they would be cracked. Dehydrated. Like a shriveled raisin. Although not every day is this dry, I always feel this way. You can try and water me all you want, but no amount of water will fill these bottomless nooks and cracks. Eric filled in the gaps. I was a shriveled rose and Eric helped me blossom and bloom. I was nothing but a bud. Then erose into a flower.

His face, smooth and poreless. His flesh shined underneath the light fixtures. I could tell he was a fresh one. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. If heaven was real, he was it. Just like heaven. His lips were soft and peaceful like a newborn baby. I wanted nothing more than to kiss him. No. This is all wrong. I can't be. I'm attracted to a dead guy. His features were so warm. Yet he was cold. Colder than snow. No. No. No. No. This was so wrong. Why do I feel this way? I walked away from the metal table his body lay on. Then I walked back. Then started to walk away again. Then I walked back. I stood over his body in disbelief. Why was I so attracted to him? What made him so different from the living? He looked so peaceful. I was going to ask my buddy to do it for me. I couldn't take this. But after, I realized that I would be asked about it. No one could know. No one. I could make up an excuse but that would be too suspicious. I even thought about taking Eric. Taking him with me. We could be so happy together. Go on picnics, grab a drink, and feed him my delicious, mini, raspberry pies. But I had time to think about this. Eric wouldn't be buried until this Wednesday. It was Sunday. I covered Eric back up. Then uncovered him. I had to begin the embalming process now. It would take a while anyway. I didn't want him to rot away before I had the chance to give him a second life. By the time I finished, it would be time for lunch.

Lunch was pretty thorough. I’m a pretty boring person. I don’t like change that much. Not that it scares me. I'm just not interested. I eat at the same time. I eat the same thing. I eat at the same restaurant. The waiters and waitresses know what I get and know when I come, but Eric inspired me. Maybe change wasn't so boring after all. Before the waitress said, "Usual?" I stopped her. Instead of getting my usual bagel with cinnamon cream cheese with a side of fried eggs and coffee, I said "No, I'll eat lunch this time. I'll have the clam chowder with coffee". Those words felt weird in my mouth. Hey, maybe it'll be good for me. The waitress smiled and asked me, "What made you have a change of heart this afternoon"? "The weather is awfully nice today", I said. That wasn't the truth. I couldn't tell her I met someone. Let alone it being a corpse. After all, it is a man. She mustn't know about that either. I prefer to keep to myself anyway. She should know that by now. Maybe she has other things to worry about. As do I. I need to come up with a plan. A plan to save Eric. A plan to save our love.

Then it hit me. I needed to flee. Go far away from this place. Live my life with Eric. Life is far too miserable by itself to not make something good out of it. I can’t live like this forever. I need change. Eric will be that. Eric is the answer. The answer to everything. I can’t let anyone get in the way of that. He’s my only hope.

I wasn’t on call anymore. I already had Eric at the funeral home. All I needed to do was finish the job. He wasn’t being buried until Wednesday, and I hadn’t had any more calls, so I decided to go home. I needed to find a way to make a fake body of Eric to put in the casket. It looking fake won't be a problem. I've seen enough dead bodies and had enough relationships with people to know that sometimes people don't always look the same after they've left. I could remember what he looked like. Eric had a face that was unforgettable. I got started on it as soon as I got home. I gathered my supplies. I used to be an artist. Paper mache coincidentally. People don't die around here often. So I know I can work for as long as I need to. Eric was the most important thing to me right now. Nothing would get in my way. I had to have him. Even if that meant not sleeping, or eating. I was going to finish this. I got home at 2:47 p.m. I finished the paper mache version of Eric at 12:09 p.m. A day later. Convenient time for brunch. Luckily I live in a pretty secluded area. Like I said before, I like to be alone. I like privacy and familiarity. I stuck the fake Eric in my trunk. I had a 1968 Chevrolet Suburban. I would soon have him. Eric would soon be mine.

First obstacle. Sherron Wilson. Annoying prick. Everything always had to go her way. She was superstitious. September birthday. Preferred salty over sweet. She curled each section of her hair in the opposite direction of the other. Over, under, over, under. I noticed odd things about people like this. She ties her left shoe before her right. Fucking asshole. She never liked me. Always onto me for doing something. Nothing I would ever do would be right to her. So what did it matter if I messed up somehow? I walked into work. She wasn't there. I asked Tony where she was. Tony. Three kids, a loving wife, and a nice house. I didn't understand him. He had so much going for him yet he was working in a mortuary. "Out for lunch," he said. This is perfect. Tony asked why. "Just wondering. Haven't seen her too much these days. You know." I said jokingly. Too perfect. Something bad is waiting for me. I just know it. Nothing like this should go this perfect already. I need to focus. "What could go wrong?" I wondered. "I'm going out for lunch soon too." This is perfect. I knew Tony wouldn't ask me to eat with him. He knows I eat later and at the same time. I'm all alone. This is perfect.

Eric was already embalmed. All I needed to do was figure out how I could get him in my car and flee. Discreetly might I add. While also replacing his body with the fake. Tony was gone. And so was my desire for familiarity. I didn't want this life anymore. I was missing out on so much. I wasn't living. Just merely existing. Tony was gone. I pulled my car to the back. Everyone was out for lunch. My heart was racing. I could feel it beat into my ears. My mouth felt dry. The world around me was spinning, falling, right on top of me. I managed to replace Eric's body with the fake. I put the real Eric in my trunk. He would soon be mine. I put the fake inside of the casket. I was going to go to Little America, Wyoming. Who the hell would go to Wyoming? Some people wonder if the state even exists. It was perfect. Today, I would not be eating lunch. Today I would be going to Wyoming. With my beloved Eric. It would be a 13-hour drive. But it'd be so worth it.

About halfway through the drive, I stopped at a market. After all, I hadn't eaten in a while as Eric was my top priority. Plus, we would be going on lots of picnics together in the future. I promised him that I would make him my pies. I grabbed the essentials. I knew we would be gone for a while, and it wouldn't be long before they would come looking for me. I bought bread, eggs, milk, premade dough, raspberries, sugar, a pot, silverware, cupcake tins, and a picnic basket. We would be heading towards the woods. After about 13 hours and 47 minutes of driving, I had made it to a stopping point. I found the most beautiful spot. There was a lake nearby. I had to dispose of my vehicle. Everyone knew what car I drove. I had to get rid of it. I got my groceries and put them all inside the picnic basket. I sat it on the grass. Then, I sat Eric right next to it. I walked back to my car. I opened my account door, put it in neutral, and started pushing. I pushed until it reached the deep end of the lake and started to sink. I watched it sink. I never thought I could feel so connected to something as simple as a vehicle falling into the abyss of a large body of water. It's crazy how that works. The way the water flowed through the windows and slowly started to fill and make my car sink made me think. There is power within this life. Somewhere, someplace, there is power. It is within the grass, within the sky, it flows past the petals of buttercups and daisies, it flows past me, and lastly flows past you. It's inside me. It's inside you. It's everywhere. You can choose to ignore this power and be on your way, or you can let it inside, and flow through your veins like electricity, igniting every one of the vessels in your blood, until you become light, and you can be an outlet, powering every person around you until everything is connected in such a way that it is impossible to part. Eric is my outlet, and I am the cord.

We are one.

I put Eric on my back and I picked the picnic basket up off the ground and I started to walk. I didn't know where I was going, but Eric would help me find the way. I walked for a total of 3 and a half hours before I finally found the spot. There was a waterfall, relatively flat, bright green leaves. This was the place. It smelled so fresh and clean. I sat Eric down next to me, with the picnic basket lying on the other side. I hadn't gotten a chance to talk with him. Everything happened so fast. My face started to flush. I had butterflies in my stomach. I was a bit nervous considering we had never had a conversation before. While Eric was dead, his life was only beginning. We started to have a conversation. Eric wouldn't respond, but his presence was just enough. "How was your day?" I asked. "I'm sorry for dragging you along with me. I'm sure you don't mind since you're, you know, dead, but I couldn't just leave you all by your lonesome." Eric didn't respond. His face was like the moon. Beautiful, full of texture. Filled with craters and pores. Delicate and lit. I got up close to Eric. I laid my head on his cold, lifeless body. He was rotting before my eyes. So beautiful. By this time, it was night. Everything was cold. If it weren't for Eric I would be too. "The moon is beautiful isn't it?" I said to Eric. He didn't respond.

I got up at 9 am. There Eric was, waiting for me. His body looked so peaceful. Embalming doesn't last very long, and neither does getting away with stealing a dead body, but I would make this last as long as I possibly could. Nothing could get in the way of our love. I gathered some sticks and grass and sat it on top of a tree stump. I grabbed my lighter and lit it up. I took my pot that I bought at the grocery store. I put the raspberries in the pot, followed by the sugar. This would be the filling for my raspberry pies. After I let it sit off to the side, I took a chunk of dough and molded it into the cupcake tins one by one. This would be the crust. This dough was made without eggs so there would be no need to cook it. I then took a spoon, took some of the filling, and carefully placed it into the depths of the crust. I then took some more dough and cut it into strips to make a criss-cross pattern across my pies. I made 4. Two for me, and two for Eric. I sat down next to Eric with the pan of pies. "Be careful," I said. "The filling is very hot". I blew on our pies so that they wouldn't burn Eric's delicate lips. I wouldn't want to hurt my love. Of course, since Eric wasn't able to swallow, I had to do it for him. I took a small spoonful of pie, opened his mouth, and stuck it in. "How is it?" I asked. "It's good right?" There was no response. There were no napkins so I had to wipe away the excess pie off of his face with my sleeve. I laid my head on his shoulder. For once in my life, I was smiling. For once in my life, I felt happy and whole. Eric completed me. I wasn't ever really that successful in the dating world. I had tried many times before but they never felt right to me. Something always felt missing. I felt like there was something wrong with me. Everyone always expected something of me. Expected me to feel a certain way, to act a certain way to love a certain way, but I could never do it. I was never enough. Eric made me feel enough. Eric expected nothing out of me, and I loved that.

Days went by. Hell, maybe even weeks. When you're with someone you love, time goes by so quickly you lose track of time. You forget everything going on around you. All that exists is you and them. You look into their eyes and you see light, hope. I put Eric on my shoulders and we explored the woods. We lay down in fields of grass. Touched different flowers. I even held his hand. It was so beautiful. He was so beautiful. I pulled back his eyelids and looked at his eyes. They were blue. A beautiful sea blue. I opened them just enough to where when the sun hit his irises they sparkled. I had never been so infatuated with a man before. Let alone a corpse. We sat under the stars and looked at the constellations together when night fell. I held his body in my arms and held it ever so tightly. But things like this don't last forever. Nothing lasts forever. Not even love. Not even joy. Everything is temporary. Just when everything falls into place, it collapses. Right in your arms. Just like Eric. Eric lasted 2 months before he was gone for good. I didn't even notice he was falling apart in my arms until I looked down. It's crazy what little you notice when you're distracted by love. Everything could be falling apart all around, but you won't notice until love isn't there anymore to distract you. And then, everything is gone.

My heart was shattered. I felt gutted. Like someone had ripped my beating heart out of my body, arteries and all, and left it to die. We all expect death to come. But we never accept it. I was in such disbelief. I refused to accept it at first. I laid on Eric's corpse. It was rotten. It smelled. It was gray and blackened. My heart and Eric's body alike, it was falling apart. It was tattered, and holding on by threads. I couldn't let him go. He was my only hope. There was nothing else left to live for. He made me realize more about myself than I ever thought was possible. But now, it was time to let him go. I laid on his body and wept. "I will never forget you. Ever." "You will always be in my heart. No matter what". I got up and dug him a rightful grave. I washed his body off in the nearby creek to get rid of all debris and dirt. It was now time to say goodbye. I held his weightless body in my arms. I hugged him as tight as I could and gave him one last kiss. "Goodbye, my love". I then dropped his body inside the hole I dug and started to pour back on the pile of dirt next to me. I had to let go. I didn't want to. But sometimes we have to leave the things we love most. I picked up a variety of flowers to lay on his grave, and I said goodbye. For one last time. Then, I headed back on foot to Oregon to pay for what I had done. To pay for love.


Brinley Vaughn is an 18 year old student from rural East Tennessee. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories about trauma and horror, as well as her own experiences living with mental health struggles. She aims to de-stigmatize mental

health through her writing, as well as comfort those who have experienced the same struggles.

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