Appears in: Horror Tree – Trembling With Fear
Release Date: Nov. 10/2019
Summary: A reluctant groom gets cold feet the day of his post-apocalyptic wedding.
Read it at Horror Tree.
After several hours of calling around, a chapel in Vegas agreed to bless the union.
The bride was dressed in her grandmother’s wedding gown, extracted from a box in the attic. The groom, feeling grim, put on a black pinstripe suit and fumbled with his tie, red with diagonal stripes of blue. Matching the flowers.
His hands trembling at his throat, Caleb let the tie fall to the ground. Don’t cry, he cautioned himself. You can do that after the ceremony, not before. Give her family the day they deserve.
He’d promised to marry her months ago, before everything had gone wrong. Even after it all went down, he’d resolved to follow through on his promise. It had seemed romantic at the time, and at worst he’d thought this day would be bittersweet. But Debbie hadn’t been as sick then. She’d deteriorated sharply over the past two weeks, and now – well, now, even the thought of the ceremony made him ill.
A knock on the door jolted him from his regrets. His best man’s voice came muffled through the wood: “You ready?”
The reply was hesitant. “Caleb…”
“I know this is a hard day for you and all, but…I’m idling in a handicapped spot.”
Debra’s father walked her down the aisle, guiding her path with a riding crop affixed to the leather collar around her neck. He kept her a good three feet away from him as he prodded her forward, yanking her back whenever she lunged at one of the horrified guests in the pews.
Standing at the chapel’s gaudy altar, Caleb tried not to look at his bride. With her mouth clamped shut, Debra looked more like a pitbull than a woman. Her yellowed fingernails were still sharp; she’d been sedated the day before to allow her Maid of Honour to trim them, but the nails had grown back overnight, long and jagged like claws.
The guests were mostly from her side of the family. Only the most open-minded of his relations had dared attend – the others told him he was crazy, and tried to talk him out of it. In lieu of a wedding gift, his own brother had mailed him a gift card for the firearm dealership located down the street from the chapel.
Caleb’s in-laws were more understanding, but even so, they looked solemn. Many of them had been ravaged by the plague themselves; some had even been bitten, as evidenced by the peg legs and prosthetic arms taking the place of ghost limbs that had been hacked off before the infection could spread. The sight of it almost made Caleb cry, reminding him that his beloved had not been so lucky.
He willed himself not to think of it. Just get through this. And then –
And then what?
The organ was out-of-tune. Not sufficiently off-key that any individual chords sounded noticeably sour, but just enough to render the Wedding March ever so slightly discordant. It was yet another indignity, along with the haphazardly-applied glitter that flaked off the flowers and the off-white streamers draping the walls in sets of six, looking like a set of hollowed-out ribs picked clean by some sparkling paper mâché scavenger bird.
Debbie would have hated every second of this tacky charade, Caleb realized. It would be more of an honour to her memory if he refused to go through with it. Had she known the circumstances, she may have seen the humour in him jilting her at the altar. But it was too late to run now. She was slouched in front of him, making strange grunting noises from beneath her muzzle, and the minister was reading the legal document from the website that had authorized him to facilitate this sham of a wedding.
They’d gone with the stock vows. She’d been halfway through writing her own when the plague had hit, and she wasn’t in any position to deliver them now, anyway. His were already finished, written in a flash of romantic inspiration long before their lives had been upended, but he didn’t feel right reading them now. His speech had been peppered with little in-jokes that only Debbie would have gotten, and hopes for a future that no longer existed.
The rent-a-minister smiled placidly as he read out the vows, asking if Caleb and Debra would love and honour each other ‘til death did they part (Might as well have kept “obey” in there, Caleb thought; Debbie doesn’t have a mind of her own anymore). The groom muttered “I do.” The bride’s grunts were taken as consent. At last, the dreaded words: “You may kiss the bride.”
Up until this moment, Caleb hadn’t known if he would be able to go through with the kiss. And even now, he hesitated, searching her yellowed eyes for some flicker of affection, recognition, anything. Nothing. The only emotion was in the desperate faces of Debbie’s bridesmaids, friends from college, struggling to hold her arms behind her back as Debbie fought to free herself. “Hurry up,” mouthed the maid of honour, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to restrain the bride for much longer.
A bridesmaid stroked Debbie’s hair, which soothed her somewhat. She was calmer now, but the calm would not last. Trying not to scream, Caleb bent down and placed a single chaste kiss on his bride’s rotted forehead.