the forgetting curve

the forgetting curve

genre: literary horror
style: novella
Suddenly cured after spending 13 years as a ghoul in Armageddon-ravaged Reykjavik, Clara Shahi wrestles with the unforgiving nature of post-zombie life while remembering every moment of her undead existence.  


For thirteen years, I was a ghoul.

I infected seventy-seven people.

I killed four hundred and three. I ate each of them and more, because ghouls are predators and scavengers, both, and ghouls will eat a week-old arm rotting in the middle of the street because that’s what ghouls do.

I remember it all. I remember them all. In that haze, I was impressed by the variety to be found in the human scream; delighted by the range of flavors to be discovered in flesh and blood and marrow.

Now, though, I remember faces. Terror. Pain. Sacrifices for children, or friends, or parents, or for whomever they threw themselves before me and my ravenous jaws to protect.

I remember every minute of every hour of those 4,745-and-a-half days, right up until the moment some brave soul in a hazmat suit and Kevlar padding snuck up behind me, jabbed a needle in my arm, and made me human again.

The first act of my second life was crumpling to the ground. The next was crying, silently crying, for a long, long time in the end-of-summer rain, before more brave souls plucked me from the earth and carted me home in an armored truck.

It took six days to remember my name, but it took no time at all to realize how inconsequential a thing a name was in the wake of what I’d done. Of what I’d been.

I would never be Clara again.

I’m naught but an amalgam of all the shrieking, bloody faces from whose bodies I gnawed limbs and viscera. I’m a straw dog fashioned from all the hair I’d torn from heads. I’m a golem comprised of all the suffering I’d inflicted. All the souls I'd obliterated. All the lives I'd snuffed.

They call me Clara like it’s something I can just put on and button up, fitting snug like a jacket from college I’d lost enough weight to wear again.

But my name isn’t Clara. On the inside, I’m still that monster. Stained. Mangled. Unworthy of new beginnings.

My name shouldn’t be Clara. My name should be a never-ending scream.

--

They told me it was September 19th, 2025. Another week passed before my mental gymnastics could fit together the jigsaw-piece disaster that eventually revealed the statement’s meaning.

The world balanced on a tightrope. A tightrope strung over the seasonal limbo between summer and autumn, and I, suddenly made once more aware of time’s passing, and of heat and of cold, and of rain and fog and wind, dangled from the line with my pinky finger, unsure whether to tighten my grip or let go. To fall or float or sink into the gray, amoebic abyss of unknowing. The mist of oblivion was cool. Thin. Inviting in the way storming seas and high bridges are inviting to the suicidal. But I knew that just beyond the reach of my mind’s eye there lurked a red mass, just beneath the void of blissful ignorance. It yearned to swallow me whole again. I could feel its hunger, a deep, bass-heavy resonance in the souls of my feet and the sides of my throat. Like an ancient god that plummeted from the cosmos before time decided to turn clock hands and planets. It waited, groaning its siren call to me and me alone.

I would have loved nothing more than to plunge back beneath the waves of indifference. To obliviate my mind. I wouldn’t forget the faces, I wouldn’t unhear the screams, I wouldn’t untaste the coppery tang of blood or the pork-like meatiness of skin, but at least the weight of these memories—the horrific emotional apocalypse they catalyzed every time I so much as blinked—at least that would be gone. The meaning would lose all meaning. Knowing that I could again retreat to that quietly apathetic haven would have been a comfort. An ace up my sleeve; a bullet in my pocket to save for a rainy day when a bullet hole was the only solution left.

But I knew what retreating would mean. I knew what that red mass was. I knew what it wanted and that it would get what it wanted if I even thought about touching my toes into its seafoamed shores.

And that turned what would have been a reassuring countermeasure into a constant threat of possession.

If one could call it possession. Probably not the best word.

Because it wasn’t a demon down there, waiting, lurking, knocking three times to mock the holy trinity like in the movies and ripping scratches into my back while I pretended to sleep. It wasn’t a demon, or a devil, or an evil deity from another world.

It was just a ghoul.

It was just me. The me I used to be.

The me I could turn into again at any moment.

So I didn’t sleep.

I didn’t eat. (How could I eat after what I’d eaten?)

I kept my jaw clenched and my arms crossed, my nails digging and my legs bouncing.

I kept myself tense and moving, because if I never stopped running then the monsters couldn’t catch me.

“Clara?” They asked, from behind bulletproof glass. “Clara Shahi, can you hear me?”

I could hear them, but I never answered.

Clara was dead.

Wasn’t she?