Many years later when Sookie was an old woman she would think back on that last day with the deepest sorrow but also a sense of equally profound gratitude. If she hadn't lived that day her life would have been vastly different. The loss would have eaten away at her soul and she would have grown bitter.
The pain was always present and her smiles from then on would never quite reach her eyes but she was able to laugh. There were days of true contentment when sweet memories would warm her heart reminding her how lucky she'd been. She could recall something witty he'd said during their all too short marriage or the way he'd carried himself like a prince even when they'd been too poor to afford cable. On the days when it was a little harder to get out of bed she would think on the last few hours they'd spent together before he had to go away.
That day they'd walked away from Bill's expensive, ultra-modern, soulless house. It was early in the morning and sun's rays were streaking through the heavily canopied woods. The dew covered leaves shimmered when the light would set upon them making everything look especially striking. There was a light breeze which carried the scent of late autumn flowers and damp earth.
Sookie had all but danced around Eric. She couldn't get enough of seeing him healthy and so full of life. For his part he was much more somber but a tender smile graced his lips whenever he looked upon his wife. She was so beautiful and he'd missed her so much. It broke his heart thinking about the pain he was going to cause her.
She'd been so distracted that she failed to notice that they had not been walking towards her house but rather towards the graveyard that housed many of the late Stackhouses. It was an old barely used site that had fallen to some disarray but the large prevalence of wildflowers and tall grasses amidst the ancient grave markers gave it an air of elegiac beauty. She'd buried Eric there to have him close.
At the sight of the wrought iron fence she came to a standstill and turned to her husband with apprehension in her eyes. Why had he brought her here?
He didn't say a word and sank to his knees before her. His gaze was murky as he looked up.
"I have to go" was all he said.
"What? Why? You're okay now. You're alive."
He shook his head sadly "I'm not my love. This is just for a little while longer and then I'll go back to being like I was."
She shook her head trying to offset his words. "No Eric. You're fine. I know that you are. Your heart is beating and your eyes are the beautiful color that they have always been. Your skin is warm and you can talk to me again. I know that you are scared but everything is going to be good again. You'll see."
It was going to be hard to get her to understand. "My love my body has only been restored because I fed from Bill but it will wear off and the monster will return. I don't want to be a monster anymore."
With desperation Sookie sought Amelia who had walked a little apart from them to give them some privacy. The pity and guilt that she found in the woman's eyes confirmed the validity of what Eric was saying. Her knees gave way and she sank into his waiting arms. Her sobs cut through the quiet of the morning. Her pain was evident in each torturous wail and Eric's heart broke.
"Lover I would give anything, sacrifice everything to stay with you but there is nothing I can do. My fate was sealed the moment those bullets were fired."
She remained inconsolable. "Please don't ask me to accept that I have to lose you all over again. The first time nearly finished me. I swear I'll go crazy this time."
He nuzzled her hair and his warm breath tingled at her scalp. His voice was a soft whisper. "No my love you will not. You're stronger than that and you will overcome this. There is so much more left for you do, so much more for you to experience." He smiled wistfully. "My time has passed and I belong in the ground. My grave has been calling out to me for a long time but I wanted to be near you. Now the urges have grown too strong for me to continue to deny them."
Sookie crumpled into silence as hot tears coursed down the pale skin of her cheeks. "Please Eric don't go."
He was crying too but his voice remained steady and brimming with certainty. "I will never leave you. You are my home and the marrow of my soul. I will live in each and every drop of your blood, in every beat of your heart. We belong to each other and nothing, not even death will change that."
She reached out to him. Her hands travelled the planes of his torso under his torn and bloodied sweater. Eric's skin tingled at the touch. His eyes closed in pleasure.
Amelia, who'd wondered into the cemetery grounds, retraced the same steps she'd taken those many months ago. Marnie had favored a particular large clearing between some of the newer graves and a tall cypress. The earth in this area was damp and rich-looking with white beads of volcanic perlite sown into it. The witch took a deep breath centering on the peculiar scent of magic that hung around the place. It was old and much stronger than anything she could ever muster.
She sat down and sank her hands into the ground. As she'd expected it was pulsing with power. Eric was right, the earth was alive and calling out to him. Her mentor Octavia had said that a witch was never to intrude on the natural course of life and death. No matter how powerful the intrusion the universe always found a way to right itself often causing terrible pain in the process.
Amelia peered at the couple from the corner of her eye. The pathos of the scene with a stoic but saddened Eric holding his devastated wife augmented her guilt. She should have known better than to go against teachings inscribed almost from childhood.
"How much longer?" Eric's question startled her. He'd laid Sookie across his lap and was struggling to lift both of them to their feet. It seemed that his legs had started to stiffen once more.
"A bit. Maybe a couple of hours. No more than that."
He nodded in acceptance of what he already felt. His body was dying all over again. Eric turned towards the spot near where the witch was standing. Somewhere there stood the stone grave marker with his name on it.
"Come my love, journey with me these few last steps."
Sookie rose to her feet unsteadily and had to lean against him for support. He felt so solid and alive that it was hard to believe that his heart was already skipping a few beats.
They walked together past the wrought iron gate and onto the cemetery grounds. By this time the dew had evaporated and the sun was shining brilliantly in a robin blue sky. It was a lovely day to be alive.
She'd used their savings to pay for his funeral and his headstone. The polished granite marker was carved in the shape of a double heart with his name and dates carved into one of them.
"I wanted us to be together" Sookie said between her tears "the next plot is to be mine."
Eric smiled at the simple phrase at the bottom of the heart. It was one of the few things that she could say in his native Swedish but it was especially fitting.
He stepped over the grave. Grasses and other plant life were growing unchecked over the disturbed ground. Going down on one knee he swept his hand across the delicate stems but the earth stood firm and unyielding. He looked up questioningly at the witch.
"It seems that you are still tied to this world" Amelia ventured. They both turned to Sookie who remained standing immersed in her pain. "Is this the sacrifice that you told me about?" she asked of the witch bitterly.
"It's up to you Sookie. He cannot leave until you let him go. You have to make the choice for him. It's never really been about magic. It's always been about you."
She turned away abruptly and headed for the shelter of one of surrounding trees. Her hands gripped at the rough bark tightly and the flesh paled with the effort. She willed herself to stop crying but she felt gutted. When his arms enveloped her shoulders she recoiled a little before allowing her weary body to rest against his.
"I really hate that I'd hurt you and continue to do so. It seems that Bill was right after all. You deserve so much better than what life has granted you. You deserve so much better than me my love"
She remained silent as she mustered her courage. When she finally spoke her words were soft but steady. "That's not true Eric. I've never been whole until I met you. You gave me my life and now I am going to return the favor. I am going to miss you so much my love."
He shook a little as he buried his face in her hair. "What?"
"I am giving you your life to do as you need to do. You can go."
They held each other for the longest time knowing that their separation was imminent. Eric felt the last few tendrils tying him to the world dissipate leaving him unburdened and free.
He laughed spontaneously and the sound was music to his wife. "Thank you is not enough my Sookie. This time I die a happy man."
She sniffed and wiped at her tears. "How can you say that Eric? Don't you feel what I am feeling?
"I do and I dread our separation but I am grateful that I got to say goodbye and hold you once more. Life is short but it is long enough if you live with all your heart and I have."
He kissed her then and it was a kiss that carried all the love and passion that his woman had inspired in him. Her skin grew charged with the heat emanating from his own and Sookie felt the most perfect connection to the man she would always keep in her heart.
"We will be together again. I promise you."
They walked hand in hand towards the empty grave. He laid himself across it keeping her fingers threaded with his. Tiny rivulets of dirt moved around his body contouring his shape and the earth opened up in welcome taking back what was rightfully hers. Eric closed his eyes and brought her hand up to his lips for one last kiss before letting go. The ground received his body and his heart stopped one final time.
Sookie watched until he had been entirely swallowed. The earth righted itself until no one would be able to guess that it had until very recently been empty of its sole occupant..
"Godnatt, min alskare." She read the inscription in the marker and meant it with all her heart.
Amelia had to help her rise. Her legs had grown numb from sitting. It was now early afternoon and soon the sky would soon begin to darken. Sookie held onto her arm for support and started walking away almost missing the tiny flower stem poking its way out of the rich, nurturing soil.
Both witch and widow stood speechless as the flower unfurled its bright green leaves and opened its deep pink petals. Amelia was fascinated by its appearance.
"That is the oddest flower I have ever seen. Why if I didn't know any better I would say that it looks like a…" she didn't finish her thought in deference to the solemnity of the occasion but she didn't need to have bothered. Sookie'd seen that particular bloom before.
She smiled and the pain grew a little more bearable. She could survive this. She would survive this for him. Eric was still here and he would always be. Sookie had no doubt about it.
I never like my endings and this is no exception. Thank you for those that have read and commented on this weird tale. I know zombies are a bit hard on the palate (no pun intended).