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To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
-J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Elizabeth looked about at the stone teeth protruding from the ground. All besides the path was overgrown with dark grass. The walls about it were just as that colour, as was the neglected church at the path’s reach. The wind was cold, but the afternoon was still quite bright. The clouds peered suspiciously upon the deformed mouth and its victim within, and Elizabeth smiled.
She finally settled herself against a secluded gravestone and began scribbling words on paper. She described in a stanza what she saw. This was a world with no exits, just life sprouting from the monuments of death. The colours of blue, green, and brown brick were exhilarating to her.
And then, as if it had just occurred to her that she was alive, she heard a strangle whistling. But no, it wasn’t a wind’s playful tune; it was a wheezing. Was someone there? The thought of her fortress being trespassed upon was quite horrifying right now. Up she stood and looked around suspiciously. It seemed louder at the bushes climbing the wall behind her. A concept of the sound’s origin was simply theorised.
Elizabeth trod like on eggs until she noticed a human in being. He sat in darkness and his chest beat in panic. She checked to see if any other was about, but he was alone.
“Are you alright?” she asked in less caring, more a cautious manner.
He didn’t reply, but he seemed to be looking at her. His clothes were muddy and torn. All she could see clearly of him was an arm. This arm aroused both her curiosity and fear. It was unreasonably thin, and it looked bruised all over. Yet the worst was that the skin looked dried and cracking like a dead leaf.
“Can you speak?”
She’d decided that this boy was in danger, obviously, and she must help immediately.
“Do you want me to call an ambulance? You can’t talk at all can you? I’m going to call an ambulance, don’t go- I’ll be right back.”
Suddenly she experienced the most terrifying shudder of her life as of yet, as a ghostly wind cried, “No!”
She turned back to him and asked after a moment’s intervening silence what else she could do. She’d now knelt quite close to him. He seemed about her age. Her first thought was that he might have been abused by a parent of suffered a beating of another sort. Perhaps he’d taken a drug and was experiencing and allergic reaction. Perhaps he didn’t want to be caught by the police for it.
“You live-” He managed to point to the road at the end of the cemetery path, or at least in that direction.
She took this to mean the obvious. She said she did live just down that road.
“Do you want me to take you to my house?”
“Yes,” he sighed.
Not entirely composed, she dashed back to her house. The street was quite deserted. When she entered the empty home she quickly phoned “999.” In a hurried panic she informed the receiver of two things before hanging up: 1) of her address, and 2) “ambulance now, please.” Then she went to her garage and exited with a wheel barrow. Back up at the graveyard she informed the decaying boy of her decision to place him within the wheel barrow and steer it back to her house. His eyes seemed wide with horror a moment, but he consented and climbed in with surprising ease.
Elizabeth found the body to be unnaturally light (or herself unnaturally strong) as she steadied him down the sloping path.
She rolled him into the garage and shut the doorway half down. In the light outside she had finally seen him as he was. His whole body was bruised like his arm. It also seemed dry and papery like his arm. His clothes gave the impression he’d been in mud for days and were torn and worn.
She quickly paced from the kitchen and back with a glass of water for him. He took it graciously but poured it down his face, which seemed to ease him tremendously. He then gestured for more, which she obediently retrieved. This time he did drink it, or rather he poured it down his throat than actually swallowed it in anyway. This worried Elizabeth for a moment – she was sure by this time that he was both on drugs and had been physically abused by a father who believed women were inferior to men – but he seemed to be improving, so she just brought him another glass.
This time the boy drenched his legs in the water. He tried in vain to remove his shoes, which she helped with easily, and then he pulled up his jeans and caressed hurriedly his rough pores. Although he did this quickly, it was very gently, as it seemed any harder would surely tear the purple skin.
She looked at his face. His black hair was wet and around his eyes, and these eyes were white and the irises pale. Under them were darker bags, but besides this he looked youthful as and boy of perhaps 15 or 16.
Elizabeth was awoken from her studies of the boy when he tried to get up and out of the wheel barrow.
“Are you sure you want to try…?” she asked, but she helped the light boy.
“Where is there a bath?” he asked. He actually spoke now with his voice, which although harsh was far more human than his ghostly whisper.
She said it was upstairs, and he seemed eager. So the pair made their way slowly upstairs, and again the boy was so light yet he needed her support for most movement. When they reached the bathroom she presumptuously began to run the bath.
“The ambulance will be here in a moment hopefully.”
“What?” he said.
He then reached for the taps and turned up the heat. She insisted he not, as it could get extremely hot, but he paid no mind. He then pulled his t-shirt over his head and removed his trousers. Elizabeth felt herself blush as she suddenly noticed him doing this, and as he stepped in the bath she walked out of the room.
“Just....uh, yell if you want anything!” she said. Then the doorbell rang and she rushed down to it. The paramedics followed her upstairs and she rapped on the bathroom door calling, “Um, the paramedics are here to see you…”
Two minutes later the paramedics burst in dramatically, and the bruised, naked boy was gone along with his clothes (presumably now wearing them).
Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2 scene 2
That Friday night Elizabeth lay sleeping in her own bed in her own room. She had suffered a great deal of embarrassment over the disappearance of her bathing patient. Her only evidence was the pair of shoes he left in her garage. This gave her the benefit of the doubt with most of her family, but it was general consensus that she wasn’t telling the whole truth.
Reviewing this over and over in her head she drifted off to sleep. Her bed was tucked neatly in the corner, and conversely she was spread across it with her brown hair as untidy as her sheets. A little light shone from the garden through the window primarily of the moon. The light was blue; not that the inhabitant of the space could tell in her current state. But after a few minutes passed, a shadow appeared across it. There was a tapping at the window, gentle at first, then harder with frustration. Finally awake, Elizabeth jumped back against the wall. An arm reached through the small ajar window and opened a larger one. It swung open with a bang, and a body knelt at the sill, silhouetted and staring straight at her.
Her thoughts then were quick and senseless. She cried “Get out!” and threatened to scream. Just before she had drawn her breath to its greatest capacity he was suddenly on her bed and with a cold hand over her mouth.
“Don’t scream,” he prayed. “You helped me the other day, do you remember? I want to say thank you. Don’t scream.”
He lifted his hand from her mouth. Her eyes wide, she stood up and looked over the window sill.
“How did you get up here?” It was a second story window.
“The same way I left your house on Monday.”
She stood in her night gown, a very unusual thing for her to wear to bed, but it happened on occasion. She brushed her hand through her hair, suddenly incredibly self conscious. He was kneeling on her bed as if ready to pounce. After the initial shock of a boy climbing in her unreachable window had begun to subside, she said this:
“Who the hell are you? You just broke into my house, do you realise that? I’ve been in so much trouble because of you!” She decided to give him the opportunity to defend or rather explain his sudden appearance, and then she’d have to deal with the issue of sneaking him out of the house.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get you in trouble; it’s not my fault. I should’ve just stayed where I was, I’d’ve been fine without you.”
“What do you mean ‘fine?’ You were practically dying, what were you on: drugs?”
He then hopped to the floor silently. He stood up beside her. She could see him much clearer in front of the window. He was about a head taller than Elizabeth; his black hair was scruffy and his skin was now much paler, which was, on this occasion, a great improvement. His eye lids hung lazily, but his eyes focused on her.
“I’m sorry, you’re right.” His voice was smooth now and youthful. “Thank you. I’d done something stupid that day which I’ll never do again if I can help it. If it wasn’t for you I could be dead.”
She was very confused by this. A teenager had apparently just flown to her window in the middle of the night and was seemingly coming on to her. She stepped back.
“Look, will you just get out, please. I’ve had enough of this.”
“Alright, I’m sorry again. I’ll see you around.” And after a moment of awkward silence he said, “What’s your name?”
“Well, I think it’s what’s your name is what I think I ought to know!” This sentence made much more sense to her before she’d said it.
Another awkward silence.
“Well that’s nice, I’m Elizabeth, and you can go now, unless you’d like to explain to me exactly where you went on Monday and how you just appeared at my window! Is this a joke? Are there other people in on this?”
“Nah, no it’s not at all. I’ll just go; I’ll see you around, Beth. Soon, I hope,” he said, acting defeated. “I need a cigarette,” he added under his breath. “You know where to find me.”
With that he jumped to the window sill and then fell from it. Elizabeth cried out and jumped to it, but he was gone without a trace.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
It wasn’t long before the youths met again. This time it was nearer midnight. A school night. A cold night. She walked through the cemetery. There were rarely other people her at any time, and this held true tonight. But tonight she felt a presence about her. And stranger yet, her sanctuary was brighter tonight than it ever had been before. It was as much of internal sensation as it was a sight. The grass was greener, yet just as dark; the inscriptions in the stones were vivid as if carving themselves anew.
Footsteps behind her turned her head and there he was, but it was like he hadn’t even seen her there. He looked about at the air in wonder. He was seeing things she was not, and he came closer to her with each wonderful, clumsy step. She tried to find what it was which held him so captivated with an eye still upon the suspicious character. Then he was beside her. He touched her right hand with his.
“It’s so beautiful, ‘Lizabeth. Look at them, aren’t they wonderful.”
Slightly frightened she asked, “What are you looking at? I can’t see them.”
He slid behind her. She was nervous. He held her wrist and then held the other to her stomach. He slid an icy hand up her coat and held her tight as if to warm and protect her where he only froze and frightened her.
Suddenly she saw a streak of light hide from the corner of her eyes. Then another appeared, and another, until before her she saw white reflections dancing about the darkness which remained untouched. Slowly her eyes focused, her heart thudded. In the depths of each flare a person was formed. They wore gowns and suits of blue and white, and they smiled or scowled as they floated about in cheer or melancholy. One woman was skipping about quickly and exchanging playful glances with the other faces. But those faces were vague, almost invisible in comparison to the detail of their clothing. The light hearted woman seemed to look through Elizabeth right before grabbing hold of a disgruntled dancing partner. No others danced as such, but a ball was what she saw. The players drifted in and out of one another, burning in layers. Elizabeth spun about. She saw the dark green grass and bushes so vividly among the ethereal characters. Far down at the left wall she also saw people, but they were out of focus; that’s how real they are, she thought. The lights had dimmed and now she saw them as if they were stepping and dancing in the moon’s light instead of their own. She was dazzled and confused. Then she felt hands at her shoulders, and she was turned to face a stone. The stone was the one of that Monday last week she had sat at.
“Look; it’s you,” a voice said.
There before the stone hovered the faintest of lights, yet there it was. Was this her? Was she dying? But, who had spoken?
The lights were dimming further, and eventually she saw no people. Her drunken sensation was evaporated. The sounds of street lamps humming and distant cars arose. The wind was cold and sharp. The darkness was solitary. And where was that boy? Where was James?
Elizabeth still felt the vague sensation of warmth the spirits had emitted, and the cold taunted her. She retraced the path and sat and the gates. She threw herself to the ground and cried. She beat her palms into the rocky pavement and tears swelled at the sounds of her choking.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Elizabeth returned the following night to the cemetery, and once more since then, but James and the apparitions were not there again.
The weeks passed. This month had become October, and it was dreadfully cold. After a day out, Elizabeth was having to walk home alone. She’d been with a group of friends, and their mode of transportation had been the railway. But there had been a wreck, and the group was forced to walk home. The others recently abandoned her for their own places; her home was a long way off. Insecurities plagued her as she pondered why no one had cared to walk her home.
She clutched her coat tightly, and walked with her eyes on the pavement below. Her pace was unyielding and fast. The lights were few and far between, and this frightened her. The moon was but half itself, and it reflected in the pools of water the rainy day had left behind. The night was quiet. Then there were voices beyond the bend.
She stopped. Most likely there was a group of teenage boys around the corner. Any group wandering the streets at this time of night was likely to be dangerous for a lone, young girl.
Feet crunched the ground behind her, but no steps continued. She wished to compose herself, to think of another route, but this was starting to feel overwhelming. Her paranoia was screaming in her ear, someone’s behind you!
Elizabeth should have and might have known who it would be that her fear sensed so like ice. He stepped from behind her and continued to walk. He smiled at her and puffed the smoke of a cigarette in his fingers.
“You alright, lads?” he said around the turn.
She stepped forward to obtain better a vantage of what took place. There were six boys, all with short hair and their colourful football shirts shining like the sparks of their cigarettes.
“Do you got a fag, please? I seem to have run short,” said James.
“Yeah, go on,” one replied, handing him one.
They then resumed conversation apparently profoundly involving the opposite gender.
“Come here, Beth.” James pulled her hand and she clung to his arm. “This’s my bird, lads.”
“Well that’s great, but would you mind pissing off now?” said that same one. The other boys seemed to harbor objections to the sending away of the boy who brought a girl to their midst, but said nothing.
“Alright,” he said.
With that he walked off, brushing Elizabeth aside, and when she tried to follow, he was gone. The boys offered her a cigarette. She refused and tried to walk passed. She was in disbelief that this boy, whatever he may be, whose life she had saved had just left her to be bothered with a large group of horny teenage boys in the dead of night. One boy touched her buttock as another pulled on her arm. In an instant they pulled back. She’d tried to exclaim dismay, but before she even drew breath the boys seemed to be fighting one another. Then she realised that James was among them. He was smacking the boys in the faces, each one. His face bore a strained look of rage she’d not yet seen on him. A blonde one grabbed his hand and pulled it back. There was a great crack, and James laughed aloud. Then, one handed, wrestled this same boy to the ground. Another came from behind, but all of a sudden James was performing a handstand on the new boy’s shoulders. Then weight suddenly realised its absence, and both boys toppled down upon the other. James’ arm had apparently snapped itself back into place in the fall, and James still laughed. Before there’d been a murderous gleam to his eye, but now he laughed like in a game. The others stood back as James kicked the air from above the fallen.
Finally he calmed and sighed. This seemed an opening for the others, but apparently it just meant James was bored. He jumped up to the side and lifted one of the fallen boys above his head and toppled two of the others. The fight executed in a clumsy swiftness. It eventually ended when the gang had gathered sense and stayed back.
A distant look in his eyes, James started to walk off. Elizabeth called his name. He turned, surprised.
He grasped her and they embraced.
“I was so angry, Beth, seeing them do that. I shouldn’t have walked away, I was just messing around, I swear.”
“It’s OK,” she said.
He stood and stared at her. Then he took her hand and said with a simple pride, “I’ll walk you home now.”
Oh, darling, let your body in, let it tie you in, in comfort.
“What are you?”
Elizabeth and James walked hand in hand. Her arm was cold, but she didn’t want him to know he was the cause of her discomfort. He smiled at her with that simplicity he had shown in the few times before.
“Seriously, where did you come from? How did you show me those….ghosts, or whatever, at the cemetery? Where do you live?”
“I live in the graveyard! And I showed you the ghosts by accident. They only come on a full moon. I didn’t know you couldn’t see them until I touched you.” Elizabeth thought she saw him blush (quite a feat considering he didn’t appear to have a drop of blood beneath his skin).
“But, James, who are you? When were you…born?”
He stopped walking.
“Birth? I don’t remember my birth. Do you remember yours?”
“No, but my Mum’s told me about it. Where are your parents?”
“I don’t know, I s’pose they’re dead.” They waited in silence. “I think I’m dead,” he said.
He looked at the arm he’d broken minutes before. It had snapped, perhaps the bone cracked, and yet here it hung in one piece. She put her hand on his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around her gently.
They left the ground. She felt her weight relieve itself, and her hair floated about like in water. She found she wasn’t afraid of falling but more of developing that very fear. She gaped at the houses falling beneath her. Her arms held his neck tight, and she looked into his eyes curiously and excitedly. They flew over the houses. They were only a few yards away from her house anyway. Once at her window above the garden they entered the way he had done some time ago. Suddenly her weight pulled her down again. She fell back onto her bed, James sat beside her. His cold hand on her face caught her off guard; her thoughts were still high in the sky.
There was a lamp near them. The room was not only brighter but refreshingly warmer. His skin was always cold. He looked pale as usual. His hair was dishevelled. He was so smooth. Those rings of purple were still about the liquid eyes.
He kissed her, and she shivered. She could smell smoke and rotting flesh in his face. She recognized it from earlier but only now acknowledged it.
They sat in silence and watched each other. She removed her coat and sat back against the wall. He took her wrist in his hands and lay down. His fingertips were rough, she felt. Then he bit the wrist slowly and gently. His breath was ice. She found something wonderful in this sadism. Her chest heaved, and she felt it against her beating veins.
But he did this just a moment. She then remembered that he’d been following an old scar. Elizabeth lay dawn beside him and took his arm. The smoky, fleshy scent was vivid. He held his forearm tight for a moment. Then he dug a grubby nail into it and ripped open with ease. This smell was horrific and took her aback. He apologized quickly. Elizabeth thought maybe the cut on her arm allowed one on his propriety. The wound bled little. This blood was a yellowish red, and it seeped about the tear a moment before drying up completely.
“I just don’t understand this,” she said. “Do you really think you’re dead?”
“I might be,” he replied mournfully.
“Do you remember anything from before, anything at all?”
“I don’t, nothing. All I remember is…… having fun. I remember the graveyard. I remember you. I remember friends. I remember the ghost. And the ground. And being like this, and flying!” The spark which had dimmed just now had now rekindled. “Why would anyone want to be alive when they could stay like this forever?”
“I don’t know.” Elizabeth thought on this. She did know why people wanted to live. There was satisfaction with living a life. There was loving and receiving it, and babies. She knew this, yet it seemed so bleak to her then. James was happy. He may not remember his life or even his ‘death,’ but he was genuinely happy when she wasn’t asking him questions.
She stood up and locked her door. Then she crawled under her sheets, removing her trousers (wearing knickers, of course). As insecure as she felt of her torso, her legs, she felt, were devices to be proud of. Years of regular walks had given her legs muscle, but her stomach had been quite ignored. She kept her shirt on, and watched him lay beside her atop the covers. They met eyes again, which greeted informally. He put his arm over her, and she turned to be comfortable. Her heart rate increased again, but soon she was asleep.
She awoke much later, though night still ventured on. He’d removed his shirt and lay huddled facing the other way under the duvet. His body was thin as she’d imagined. His forearm still wore the wound, and (although it may have been her imagination) it seemed smaller. She touched him and held him, and was drained of all warmth. He stirred and she kissed his cheek.
A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 5 Scene 3
An hour or two later Elizabeth roused at the sun’s beckon. It was a few moments before she remembered where she was, who she was with. She turned over looking to find James, and there he stood at the window. The sun on him made him appear like marble, and a red mark had appeared on his throat.
He turned to face her, his chest heaving. He was having trouble breathing again. He climbed beneath the covers where she met him with concern.
“Are you alright?”
“I shouldn’t…be in the…sun. It…dries…my throat. It…dries….me.” He coughed violently. Blood splattered into his palm.
“Wait here,” she said, rising and closing the curtains. She unlocked the door, and made her way down the hall. She went down to the kitchen where her mother sat reading the morning news, chewing on toast and a cup of tea in her hand.
“Oh, I didn’t hear you come in last night; did ya have fun?” she asked.
“Yeah, something happened with the trains though, we walked home.”
Oh yes, I was just reading about that; some nutter killed the driver! Lord, there’s a thought, what if you’d been on it! Christ, that would’ve been the end of me, sweet heart, it really would have. Oh! Never mind, apparently it wasn’t your train. I hope someone walked you home.”
“Yeah, one of my mates did. I don’t think you’ve met him.”
“I haven’t, have I? Do we like this ‘mate’ of yours?”
“Mum, he’s my friend, yeah, we like him - as a friend.”
“Yes well, let’s hope so. There’s chocolate moose in the fridge. D’you want some?”
“Well can you get me one then?”
Elizabeth eventually escaped the jaws of her mother. She climbed the stairs with a glass of water and fetched some tissue from the bathroom. She reentered her dark room with the thought, “What if someone had gone in while I was downstairs?”
James was still there. She washed his hand, and he drank.
“Is that what happened to you before? Had you stayed in the sun too long? Is that what happened?”
“Yeah,” he said after several sips, “I woke up and it was still day. Maybe I’d slept all night.”
“So are you fine in the sun if you’re asleep?”
“Um, no. I sleep…underground.”
She paused. “You sleep under the soil? In the cemetery?”
“Yeah, it’s nice under there when the sun’s out. It’s cool.”
“So why were you standing over there when I woke up if it’s so bad for you?”
“I like the way the sun looks sometimes. I wasn’t going to stand there long. I probably wouldn’t dry up so much inside.”
“Indoors, I mean.”
The rest of that day Elizabeth spent in her room. She occasionally resurfaced, but her mother didn’t pay her absence much mind; it wasn’t an unusual thing for her to disappear for a full day into the depths of her bedroom.
The young couple spent the day in books and films, and especially the relieving company of one another. That night they flew to the cemetery, and then Elizabeth went home and to bed around one o’clock. She slept well with a drawn grin. She knew where to find him.
...the safest course is to do nothing against one's conscience. With this secret, we can enjoy life and have no fear from death.
“You alright, lass? We hear you been giving our lad, James, here a nice piece of it?”
The gang laughed, James joined in. Elizabeth just stood and scowled.
This inquiry was produced by a boy whom had looked almost exactly like the fellow from the other day, but taller; he looked like the boy who touched her.
James had a cigarette in his mouth, as did the other boys. It seemed that the soulful dead had joined the mindless living. She put up with the conversing imbeciles for at least twenty minutes before she informed James that she was going home now.
“Why? What’s wrong?” he asked aside.
“Have you been listening to these guys at all? They’ve been nothing but disrespectful to me since the moment I got here.”
“How’ve they disrespected you?”
Her eyes were moons of horror. “Are you joking? Are you honestly that stupid? They’re talking about women like they’re objects. I don’t know exactly how you feel about it, but I don’t want to be associated with that slut over there.”
There was a girl among the boys who had remained silent and grinning for the entire time they’d been there. She wore very little, despite being apparently freezing, and agreed with giggles to every horny question she’d been offered.
“What are you talking about?” He seemed genuinely confused.
“James, Jeff wants to get stoned, he said that.”
“Oh my god, you are totally oblivious. I’m not going to put up with this anymore, I’m sorry.” And with that she walked away. “Actually,” she said spinning on her heel, “I’m not sorry.” She continued walking, believing her pride regained.
He didn’t follow her. She cried a little that night, but held composure for the most part, thinking over, “Rotting bastard, how dare he not follow me?” And when she awoke the next morning she could have sworn that she’d felt him with her that night; his absorbing temperature against her skin, his cold breathing on her cheek. But there was not a trace of him.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1
Weeks later we find our heroine asleep once more in that bed we’ve come to know so well. The curtains drawn, the room was close to black, but still a blue tint illuminated. The previous night she’d found one of her windows frosted but only one. This put her on an excited yet suspicious edge. She’d tried to stay up longer tonight, but was now very unconscious.
Profoundly into the night, Elizabeth was vaguely roused by the sound of the wind battering the open window, and awoke with a start when she sensed someone sitting upon the edge of her bed. There was silence whilst she sat up against the wall. The long back of intruder sat proud. His head faced away, and she saw vapour emit from his mouth, though it was quite warm. His hair glowed brown at the right-hand border of his silhouette. He removed his shirt, and she was worried at the site. Great chunks were missing from the torso; it could be that her fingers and thumbs would have met about it. What had he done to himself? He stood up, and she noticed his height, much taller than the corpse she knew. Was this not James? He turned around. Half his jaw and the flesh under his left eye were missing. The being stood wide eyed (his left about to drop), and she barely held immediate cries.
The stick creature suddenly flung itself at her and held her head. She then was screaming and beat at his chest (not thinking she might have been able to break his thin arms as she’d seen James’s had been). His rotten breath was replete within her lungs, as was the stench of that gruesome jaw, when she gasped for air. His arms grasped her body and moved like to bite her face. Then the door burst aside, and light broke in; it was gone.
The curtains were drawn, the window shut, and she was huddled in her corner, her duvet about her. Her mother, father, and sister all stood in the entrance. They looked about nervously, surveying the area before rushing to her.
God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December.
The rest of that night Elizabeth slept with her parents. She was terrified of her room, she was even afraid to visit the cemetery. She spent much of the days in her room now, but never the nights. She’d enter when the sun was brightest and leave as it set.
One day she entered the room with a few steps before noticing the window ajar. It was late afternoon. She walked slowly, searching the spaces silently. She suddenly realised the house was empty and ran to fetch the telephone. She resumed her search until she heard the sound coming from the wardrobe. She stood a moment before pulling it open suddenly. She jumped at the sore site of James gasping.
The curtains were then closed, a glass fetched, a shower taken. During this shower Elizabeth attempted to leave, but James asked her to stay. She sat behind the curtain. The air filled with steam and grew damp. She listened to the rhythm of the beating water and the occasional splash. Her eyes drifted along the wall as she thought of things miles away. One of these crept obnoxiously to mind. It was of her old friend, Jenna, from many years gone by. She remembered a time when they were so young. Jenna’s mother was asleep, and the girls were playing with her lifeless carcass. They had the stereotypical tea party, and it was good. She remembered giggles and lots of spilt water. After, perhaps, hours Jenna’s father came in. There was hitting and blood -
“Yeah?” she said, still distant.
“I remember things.”
“What do you remember?”
“I don’t know; it’s all very fuzzy. I remember a lady first. I suppose that’s my mum. She’s wearing a dress, a big brown one. It doesn’t make sense. She’s cooking and I’m looking at her, but I’m in a coffin. But I can’t have been dead yet, because she was looking at me and smiling. And then my father has a moustache. And there are children playing. There’s lots of stuff in my head about that stuff, but it’s kind of like I’m asleep or really tired.”
“Wow, that’s really interesting. Do you know what time period that is?” she said. He couldn’t see that her face read a worry. What if he was ancient?
“No, not really. It’s just there. But there’s another thing that feels like it’s different from the others. It’s about a man. Well, it’s like this; I’m on a road and it turns into two roads. And there’s this man standing in between them. He’s really really tall, and I can’t see his eyes. He, like, waves his arms about like he’s talking to me. I think I’m on the ground. Everything is so dark there, but I can see it all like it’s bright.”
“And that’s a different one, is it? How does it feel different?”
“I don’t know. It…like it’s fresh or something. It feels more exciting and strange.”
There was quiet.
“I want to find out more about myself,” he said. “Maybe I can find out what happened to my family. Do you think I could?”
Elizabeth honestly didn’t.
“Sure, I suppose so.”
“And I maybe I can find out what I am.”
The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.
James wasn’t well for the evening until the sun set. When he’d finally regained something resembling his usual energy he asked her why she seemed so sad. She informed him of the dream she’d had several nights ago. She said it definitely wasn’t about him. The character in her dream was much taller, and his hair was different, and she didn’t acknowledge the corpse as James. It couldn’t have been about him. She ended her story with this explanation when she’d seen the worried look in his face. As mad as she’d been at this simple mind weeks ago, she was fine now. Perhaps it was due to his sudden discovering of a curiosity behind those pools of eyes.
“No,” he said. “I got in a fight a while ago and I broke this guy’s jaw off. And he was like me; he was strong and could fly and stuff. Are you sure it was just a dream?”
“No, I’m not.”
James had taken part in a gruesome battle with the only possible link to the reality of what he was. The fight had taken place near the train station. James was with some boys who tried to start trouble with a passing stranger. The stranger retaliated.
Elizabeth often found walks an effective clearance of the mind, so they visited the cemetery up the road. Yet they walked through it, a rare and unusual thing for Elizabeth. The church front was quite unfamiliar, though the road was similar to hers. Walking to the right they could walk a full circle about the neighborhood.
“Let’s fly,” she said.
They glided through the frozen air for hours. The air slid in between them like silk, and she buried herself into his arms and full asleep. When she awoke she was in bed. The heat had risen her, and she found a scribbled note beside her. It simply read:
Bring me books tomorrow
The only unnatural sexual act is that which you cannot perform.
Weeks ago, when they’d spent that full day together, the morning she’d awoken to his closing throat, she’d learnt he was illiterate. She decided she’d teach him the basics of English in writing, and when she did, she found he was picking it up at an unnatural pace. She thought it most likely that he’d once been quite literate in the days of his life, and had forgotten over these long years in his current state.
Elizabeth thought about James’s new memories. She pictured his mother frying bacon in an old Victorian dress, the perplexing coffin with her dead son inside beside her. Was this a full memory? Had he really lain in a coffin during his lifetime? Or was he already as he is in this memory? Maybe it was simply shattered thoughts merged confusedly. Why hadn’t he passed on like the ghosts of the cemetery? And then her mind visited something near forgotten. In the wonder of all that had happened those few minutes or many hours she was among the spirits that night, she had forgotten the faint light before the headstone she’d sat against so many times. “Look; it’s you.” Was she dying? Was that how the living dead came about? Had she been infected by this deceased whom she cared for so dearly?
Early in that morning she visited the local library. The computer was the easiest method by which to find her particular subject. Apparently searching for guides on the undead isn’t as easy as James seemed to have hoped. There were many books, but mainly novels of horror and books over movies. One of the books she found was called The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead. She glanced through it out of curiosity but decided ultimately not to take it. She eventually took to the internet. There was a great deal of films over the undead, and anyone who wasn’t a skeptic was apparently quite insane. One website discussed the concept of ‘philosophical zombies.’ These were supposedly unconscious humans whom acted as though conscious and had no supernatural abilities whatsoever. Another site argued the existence of zombies whom arose from their death beds and ate people. It wasn’t often that James ate people (although she knew it quite possible), but there was still no sign of intelligence after death - true, James hadn’t appeared all that intelligent at first, but his absent mindedness seemed to have begun to subside. Also there was the absence of acknowledgement of their flying capabilities. This was when Elizabeth was about to cease her search of anything to do with the mythical ‘zombie,’ but just as the thought came, she found a website which mentioned a voodoo goddess named Maman Brigitte. She was a guard of the cemetery and the female counterpart of Baron Samedi or Ghede. Ghede stood guard at the centre of the roads leading to Guinee, the voodoo realm of the afterlife. He wore all black, including black glasses.
This last tidbit of information made Elizabeth hold her breath.
‘I’m on a road and it turns into two roads. And there’s this man standing in between them. He’s really really tall, and I can’t see his eyes.’
It was true that this may have been a coincidence. For all she knew this may have been a piece of James’s forgotten education resurfaced as the others. But this was the first information she’d found relating James to anything at all. Perhaps he was in fact dead. But still, the voodoo religion didn’t say anything about flying zombies with souls. Apparently zombies usually were servants of sorcerers, and could die either naturally or by a magical conversion. Maybe James was a runaway slave. Maybe the other, the one with the missing jaw, had come to collect his fellow servant.
Ghede could bring the dead back to life, so said the article.
Elizabeth soon checked out several books covering mythologies and the practice of voodoo.
That evening she waited in her room for him. As much as she cared, she was not going to meet him late at night, piled with library books, in a cemetery. He arrived an hour or so after the sunset. The window was open, and he floated in and settled quickly at her side. He smiled at her and kissed her on the mouth. She kissed him back, but discontinued when she saw soil on his face. She told him about her research whilst cleaning him up. He seemed very distant, and when she moved to walk past him, stepped on his fingers. One of them broke. She apologised profusely, but he reassured her. He held the finger back in its place and of a sudden it was as animate as ever. She kissed him again. His icy chest pressed against her; she shivered. In the absence of heat, it beat about them. They scrapped at each other passionately, and James flesh would break inconsequently. His arms were rough and pulled her up with the simple effort his powers allowed. They lay together, and Elizabeth sweated. James seemed as white as ever, almost clear. His skin was smooth all down him where she hadn’t scratched. She was careful with his mouth (lips are quite useless if bitten off). She felt a pervert in enjoying his putrid breath as they gasped in beat after beat. Last she remembered before sleep was glimpsing her sweat glittering on his chest.
Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
-Sir Winston Churchill
“Elizabeth, I need your help,” he whispered. The room was moon-lit, and the library books were scattered about, all open to pages with pictures. It seemed James was still having a hard time reading, but apparently the darkness hadn’t inhibited his sight at all. His face was stern. He had come to several blocks in his studies either due to lack of comprehension or dictionary knowledge. He’d kindly let her sleep whilst he moved on to another book, but now he was at a stand still and needed her assistance. She wrapped herself and sat on the floor. His fascination with her had evaporated; he now held a profound scowl to his brow, his eyes fixed to the books. She’d hoped he would wait to read them with her, after all he wasn’t in any hurry. But for some reason he had gone ahead and attempted interpretation himself.
They spent several hours perusing the various pages. Most information was repetitive or vague. They discovered many philosophies of the gods and the dead (and not so dead), and James was left still unsatisfied. They concluded that Ghede almost had to have been there at James’ death, but how he returned in such a state they did not know. And then James found himself more concerned with the origin of his life than that of his death. He couldn’t even remember if James was in fact his true name. He grew frustrated and clenched his fists, digging his wild nails in to his palms.
He became close to hysterical after much pacing, and clutched his head tight, trying desperately to dig deeper into that thought his mind would barely recall. His nails dug into his scalp, and Elizabeth held him, but was pushed away.
He didn’t make a sound, not a breath escaped him, for some time. Then he just collapsed, and she saw tears glittering like ribbons from his eyes.
He said he’d remembered something, but wouldn’t say what it was. He simply stared at nothing in horror, frantically. She tried to hold him again, and she put his head in her lap. He shivered and sobbed. At sunrise he was gone.
Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! Thou talk’st of nothing.
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 scene 4
One afternoon, after a long walk, she found a letter signed James in her room. It read that he loved her more than anything in the world. He’d found some new memories and decided that it was time to put an end to himself. It was written almost like a child might write a letter; many words were misspelled , and the syntax was simple. He mentioned that the man with the broken jaw wouldn’t bother her again, and that he’d found a way to die.
Elizabeth panicked and ran out to the graveyard in tears. Eventually someone in the church came out and took her inside. She wasn’t coherent, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Any sentences she could form didn’t make sense to anyone. One person in the church recognised her and fetched her parents, but she wouldn’t leave the church. She cried until she vomited and then continued until she was empty of anything. Exhausted, she was finally driven home – walking wasn’t much of an option at that moment. Days later she was in a similar state. She was empty and exhausted; her parents let her stay home from school. They’d taken her to the doctor, and just couldn’t conclude what might be amiss. Her mother, at first, had a vague idea that it may have involved a young crush. Her sister took great pleasure in informing her friends that her sister was mad.
The day she’d discovered the letter she’d seen a news broadcast about a body found dead on the motorway. The body’s limbs were strewn all about a quarter of a mile. They believed it had been dead for days; it also seemed to have a kind of skin rash. They theorised that the perverted murderer had embalmed the body in perhaps some acid or alkaline.
The morning rained. The sun hid behind the clouds ashamed, though no blame could be placed in this tragedy. Often are tragedies ended thus.