Wade wakes up.
Now, this isn’t an unusual thing; nothing remarkable about Wade opening his eyes.
Of course, most days he’s not waking up after being dead.
Maybe that’s why he’s so shocked.
How does he know he was dead?
Well… it’s fairly obvious if one knows the signs.
Not breathing: check.
Body stiff and unresponsive: check check.
Yep, Wade was dead. And then—he wasn’t. But he’s still not breathing.
He wonders how long it’s been. He remembers everything. All of it.
He wakes up not breathing and not hurting, just stiff, but sensation quickly returns.
Frankly, he’d have preferred if it hadn’t.
He’s never felt such pain before, such a sharp and biting pain. That wreck when he was sixteen and the car crumpled around him, his arm breaking in four places when he was twelve, that last beating Mom’s boyfriend gave him at age seven and he spent two weeks in the hospital—together, those can’t equal this.
Wade wakes up and wishes to god he’d stayed dead.
He doesn’t know how long he’s slept. Has no way of knowing. The world is dark around him, dark and cold. He can’t move so he just stares at the sky.
The stars shine bright above and the pain slowly recedes. The burn all over fades to a slight ache.
He tries to take a breath but there is no movement. He closes his hand into a fist and almost cries when his hand listens. He moves his other hand, then his feet and legs. No pain, just an ache, and an ache he can deal with. He raises his hands to his face, slowly feels from his chin to his hair. There are no cuts. He is whole.
But he’d been dead. He knows he was dead. And now… he’s not.
He remembers that last day, that nightmare. Horrific beyond telling—cut and sliced and basically buried alive.
He wonders if he’ll dream, now that he’s awake, and hopes not. They won’t be anything good, that much he knows.
Not that they ever were in life, so not like it’s new.
Wade wonders if Carly survived. If Blake, Paige, Dalton—Nick. He knows he should be more concerned; Carly was the closest he ever came to love. But the emotions are distant, as are the memories, and apparently the dead don’t feel much.
Finally he rolls over, presses his face to the dirt. He tries to breathe, to smell the earth, but his heart and lungs and whatever else he’s forgotten from biology refuse to work. His body is cold, slow to respond, and he figures physically, he’s still dead. His soul, or whatever, has returned to his body, but he’s still dead.
Wade wonders if he were in Heaven or Hell or neither. If either exists. Why he didn’t stay wherever he was.
He lays still, spread out over the dirt, straining to breathe but feeling nothing. His body works except for the breathing parts. He can hear the blood flowing but he’s not breathing—which is not possible. None of this is possible.
Wade pushes himself up and pulls his legs under him, getting ready to stand. The sky is slowly lightening above him and he rises. He doesn’t know how long it’s been since he stood but it feels good.
He doesn’t hurt. His clothes are whole and untorn, as is his skin. And he doesn’t understand. It makes no sense.
With a look around, Wade steps forward. His stride is sure, unhurried. He doesn’t know where he is, where he’s going, how long it’s been. He doesn’t know much, nor does he care.
He was dead but now he’s not. He can remember everything from before, but it’s distant, not important. It was before and now this is after. For whatever reason, he’s been given a second chance.
Wade picks a direction and starts walking. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got here, but—he’s hungry. He wonders what dead men eat. He licks his lips and strides through the woods, a smile twisting his lips.
He’s still not breathing.
He walks for hours. The sun crosses to the other side of the sky. He paused when he came to a small lake. Wade can’t breathe so he doesn’t know if he smells, but he bets he does. So he stripped and swam for a bit, washed as well he could. He let the sun dry him and put his clothes back on, then kept walking.
He doesn’t tire, he isn’t thirsty, but he is hungry. The hunger is starting to gnaw at his stomach. The forest stretches forever and there is no noise. The wind doesn’t rustle the trees and there are no animals.
Around him, but for the sun, the world is dead. He wonders what that means.
Two days pass. He tries berries and grass but they taste like ash in his mouth. He never tires, never thirsts, but the hunger is driving him mad.
He never sees any animals. It’s starting to worry him.
A week goes by and the forest refuses to fucking end. He thinks he’s going in circles—he never was good at directions.
At sunset, he sees a doe and her fawn. He freezes, worried they’ll run, but they don’t seem to notice him. An owl hoots and he almost smiles.
Seems like he finally found the animals. He licks his lips.
So, Wade reflects after his feast, he’s faster and stronger than he was. He doesn’t tire and he doesn’t thirst, nor does he need sleep. Also, he doesn’t breathe.
And he likes to eat stuff raw, with the blood still flowing. And he can eat a lot. He never felt this full before Ambrose and his murder.
He thinks he knows why the forest was so empty. Animals have always sensed things that are wrong.
And, Wade bets, something is really fucking wrong.
The tenth day after he wakes up, Wade hears a highway. He’s clean, relatively speaking, and bets he looks as trustworthy as ever.
He’s eaten deer, fox, and fish. He wonders what human tastes like.
It takes another day before anyone picks him up. An older gentleman in a sporty car, looks like he can handle himself.
You know, if Wade were normal. Which he’s not.
“What day is it?” he asks.
“Monday,” the nice man answers, his eyes flicking from the road to Wade and back.
Oh, yes, Wade remembers this. Some of Mom’s ‘special friends’ used to look at him like that, before he shot up a foot in eight months and decided he no longer wanted to be a victim.
He’s anything but a victim now.
By sunset, he has a phone and a car and the taste of man-blood in his mouth. He’s sated and happy and sees he was dead for roughly a year.
The world stretches before him. Everything he once was is quickly receding behind him. He can’t even remember the color of Carly’s eyes.
He turns the radio up loud and sings along.
Wade is still not breathing. It bothers him less than it should.
Looking in the mirror, he doesn’t appear to be a predator. He still seems to be an all-around nice guy. He’d help little old ladies cross the street, he’d break up bar fights, he’d defend people he never met.
He figures a big city is the best place to start. He’s always been good at blending in. And he’s a master at looking harmless.
Going by the guy’s GPS, New York is a few hundred miles to the east.
Wade smiles and licks his lips, turning the radio up louder.
For whatever reason, he woke up in the middle of nowhere after being dead. He’s not going to question it. Human morals no longer apply and he’s hungry again.
He remembers, vaguely, that once he’d have shuddered at killing. Even if they were one of Mom’s ‘special friends.’ Life was priceless.
Wade sees a car up ahead.
He’s not the man he was. He doubts he’s a man at all.
He doesn’t tire or sleep. He’s not thirsty. He doesn’t breathe.
And he’s hungry. Sated for a few hours, then starving again.
He woke up after being dead and he knows he’ll never wake again.
He passes the car, sees it holds a couple and a kid, and starts to plan.