CHAPTER 18

CEREMONY

I won’t endeavor to deceive you here, my dear reader, for the sequence about to unfold before you is surely by now known and expected. A simple survey of our story heretofore deems it so. I have alluded to my present state of terrific deformity, of its loathsomeness sevenfold, yet you have also gathered an appreciation I’m sure of my current state of mind, at this time of my writing to you, and found it I hope not unbecoming in its candor, humor, and general pleasantness. Should this discrepancy concern you? I think not, for journeys of deliverance vary for all, and mine is indeed unique, though perhaps you feel it stretched in credibility, and for this I cannot censure, I can merely proffer what I know to be my truth, subjective as it may be.


Further, I have acknowledged Chloe to sit presently by my side, the same Chloe of my thousand consternations, the same Chloe who lay lifeless at the maw of that terrible rock face, the same whom I carried home with me that night at the most recent place in our story. You know her to be not only alive but matured beyond her former self, as she accepts her home forever in my heart, my lovely companion, my self and my other to the fullest, so exquisitely joined with me in the richest expectation of any Heaven that any two can share. So the nub becomes, what road could possibly carry us to this prescience, since our story to the now seeps with horrors so spiteful, so degenerate, so corrupt, as to offer no expectancy of anything but a continuance unto pains richer in suffering and contempt? Let me assure you, dear reader, that this feeling that aches at you, this unabated sentiment, this burden of dread, this will endure, and require in you the utmost mettle and fortitude, for I have only merely begun to spin my tale, and it will become terrible indeed, and no matter how much wisdom, or steel, or philosophy you afford yourself, nothing can protect you from the unspeakable which I am about to disclose.


I maneuvered the car home with inevitably more dexterity than the outbound trip. This was a matter of requirement, for Doris surely would be awaiting my arrival, prepared to reassert her discipline over me, a prospect I most certainly couldn’t allow. With this in mind, I parked the car two houses away, opting to drag Chloe along the neighbors’ autumn lawns, and enter the house clandestinely through the basement door, rather than risk the to-do of raising Doris’ ire with a “hi honey I’m home and I brought my dead sister with me” arrival. Really, the whole matter of Doris was one I could not solve just yet, but that stickiness obviously would not deter me, I simply considered that I would answer it in due course, so sure was my newfound faith in my diplomacies, most certainly buoyed by the ease with which I had dominated Doris earlier that night in her bedroom. To see my own mother shrink before me like a lilting, broken reed, it was something I had never considered, but once it was done, I savored it more than I could have ever imagined. It was as if nature had reformed its natural mandate, and clicked into sense to give me no doubt. Doris would be a minor worry at best, and one I would confound, so my soul now spoke to me.


The Appleby home had one of those small basement spaces etched into the side of a gentle slope which ran a hundred feet or so down to a ribbon of creek bed. From foundation to ceiling it was no more than six foot high, and perhaps twelve-by-twenty in floorspace. It was really meant to approximate a shed, a handyman enclave where there was no handyman, so it emptily sat, pleasantly cool in the summer, one supposed, but always damp, illuminated by a single naked bulb that hung with no elegance from the masonry above. The room was bare, save for an abandoned bench and shelves along the longer side, and there was no interior access to the house over it, just the one way in, and the one way out, leading directly to the backyard. There was a curious oblong window above the workbench that revealed a sliver of the side yard at grass level, as if to remind that one was underground, encased in a crypt of sorts, where one could grow accustomed to an afterworld, with only thin walls separating the humans from the worms. It was certainly an apt birthing place for my Chloe, and divided as it was from the main house by a sufficient amount of cement and dirt, I knew I could conduct my activities there with a fair level of secrecy, and minimum level of noise. Even that little window to the outside world was well covered by the overgrown grass, and any transparency that remained was intermittent and stained by years of weather, allowing no clear view inside, only murky shapes and outlines at best. Though it was never intended for intentions such as mine, the room seemed as if it was put there for me by design.


On my mother’s keychain was a key to the padlocked wooden basement door. I couldn’t imagine there being another copy of the key, for I was certain that Doris had never set foot in the room, during the two weary weeks we had lived at the house. I dragged my Chloe gently to it, by now of course rather fatigued from my travail, staring down upon my resting self/other, my Chloe, with a twinge of comedic envy (lucky bitch didn’t have to move a muscle! I did all the work!). A quick twist of the lock and we were inside, the lone light source revealing the simple stage upon which I would begin Chloe’s play anew. I had what I needed, my aforementioned supplies, strapped to my back: the plastic jug of poison, the Vodou book, with requisite pages of rites folded, rubber gloves, and a change of clothes for Chloe. She wouldn’t be needing that hideous cheerleading outfit ever again. I removed from my bag and set to one side her new attire: a simple mid-length skirt and blouse, the kind I so often wore myself to remain secular and anonymous.


I felt no discomfort disrobing my supine Chloe, as her body was a familiar scape, so akin to mine. I suppose I adopted the disposition of a doctor, for that’s indeed what I had become, or, to use the correct term, a bokor. Sitting cross-legged beside Chloe’s now nude form, I read from my book, at the first folded page:


“The bokor had a special connection to the spirit world…” Then, further down the page, “only he could distill the venom…” What’s with the “he” you sexist douche! Never mind, it was an old book about a third-world country full of savages, just gimme the magicks and be done. I read the next passage aloud.


“To restore the patient’s health, massage…”

I remembered reading this passage previously. It was why I had fully declothed my Chloe. One would think the rite of massaging sacred venom into every inch of my deceased sister’s skin would cause great awkwardness in me, but one would be wrong. I savored the task, and my only regret was that I had to wear rubber gloves to avoid direct skin contact with the poison myself. How I would have loved to feel the life-giving fluid absorb into her pores, my warmth passing onto her in a sinewy glaze, stimulating her latent muscles and nerves, as I sensed the twitching of her millions of cells errantly deemed laid to rest. Still, the act bore an intimacy, and I was careful not to miss any iota of skin, I was sure to make every last minute membrane of her epidermis glisten in the bare light, as I poured the liquid straight from the plastic jug into little pools on her skin, which I would spread about dutifully and with devotion, into her arms, legs, and torso, and into her scalp, and yes into her breasts and elsewhere, it mattered not to me, it was all her, all she was and was to become again, and there was no shame in it, no indignity in the least, for she was my sister, my self, my other, my once and forever, my me. I may as well have been resurrecting me.


Once I was satisfied that I had coated the whole of Chloe with the liquid, I removed the rubber gloves from my hands, and turned to the next marked place in the book. Once there, I mumbled some of the passage to myself.


“…intervention on the spiritual plane… …to dispense the knowledge of the gods…”

I paused. I could see the incantation on the page, the same one I recited under the bleachers with the frog. I knew the power the words held, and I knew once I started the chant, there was little chance of turning back, for I dared not think upon what horrors might result from words only half-muttered. My moment of commitment had presented itself, and it dared me to flinch.


It dared me to consider, what exactly would happen? Would Chloe return as some mutant deformity, begging in pain for the release of Death? Was Death really a Peace, and my intervention between them, an unconsecrated blasphemy? Would she still be my Chloe upon her return, or would she be different, someone I could not know? This final option frightened me the most, for to have her, and not have her, that would be the cruelest fate of all. I thought to myself intensely then, I should be prepared for all outcomes, no matter the severity, and in the worst case, I should be ready to perform the ultimate act of love, I should be ready to kill her again, as an act of compassion, of mercy. It’s what any loved one would do, much less one such as I, her deeply felt other, her self, her me.


So, steadfast to my decree, I proceeded, and read the words aloud, while the body Chloe received them, laying, in wait.


“…nous venons de la mort, la mere la vierge, epargner la vie de cet enfant…”

I repeated these words, I made them a mantra. The repetitive drone helped sway me from fears of horrors to be, so that I became device, a conduit, a messenger alone bringing forth the ancient ways over which I had no dominion but mere servitude to their plight. Chloe would happen, and there was nothing then that anyone could do about it, much less myself.


But the final puzzle piece was yet to be placed, the most crucial aspect, the origin of the magick, the mystery that I had solved. It harkened me back momentarily to that moment in Spellman’s class, when he asked me why I was so interested in Vodou, in Zombi, and I had replied that I felt “chosen.” This wasn’t a conscious reply, more of a guttural response, not unlike the embarrassing sneeze which followed, for in those moments I was again a simple vessel, I knew not whence the answers came, I merely uttered, and reacted, to what, I don’t know. Just like when I was under those bleachers, with the cursed frog, amusing myself in a pastime with a frivolity offending the Gods. I had no true purpose that day, my exercise came from boredom, my curiosity, ennui. So if it wasn’t a conscious strain, what was it then? Purely the imprint of what I am. There’s no other explanation. Within my actions, in the class, with the frog, and here in the now, I sensed the scent of nothing but the whiff of my own destiny, blooming like the most fragrant of flowers that absorbs all other perfumes around it, nullifying and subjugating them to its own. And my own in this case were the two simple words, in the French, notable not for their brevity but instead for their weight, and their mark, and their deed, for they held the power to bring forth something best described as, but still unknown to be, life.


I uttered them in the plain, in a voice that was only mine.


“…eveiller… zombi.”

And the air was pregnant with haste. Kneeling as I was, I inched back just enough to keep the body in my periphery. Fate rewarded me soon enough, as my focus darted to Chloe’s left fingertips, resting as they were closest to me. The twitch was like a spasm, not fully kin to life yet, ascribable to a rattle, something involuntary, a last dying tic. But this biology played in reverse. From the spasm came something more convulsive, till it was surely not involuntary at all, more like a hand with being unto itself, fingers with a mind of their own, grasping, clawing, independent of the body, clutched with paroxysm, panicked, looking for life. Then, remarkably, with the fingers still jerking in terrible violence, the whole attached limb began to rise from the cement floor, tense, flexed, a free and horrible existence, an arm looking for its body, in utter desperation. For the most dreadful of moments, I feared for the worst, that this arm was all that would become animated, and it would perish in its brief and lonely peril, unable to find its master. But my fears in an instant abated, as air rushed into Chloe’s lungs, and her entire torso rose in one violent swoop off the ground, with her breath suddenly audible, a great inhale that arched back her spine into a severe concave, and in the instant after this, something unholy gripped her, and she scurried impossibly into the darkest of place, a corner furthest from the light, though I could see her, naked, with a body fully awake, and eyes fully open, bulging, and scared. Her eyes told the truth. Her fear wasn’t localized, she was in fact scared of everything, anything that would fill her sense so unused to a world gifted anew. Imagine being born not as an infant but with a consciousness full, with no gradual descent into knowingness, no ease of pathway to the sentient, just the Universe, all at once. The prime instinct, as always, is flight.


I had no time myself to ruminate on the situation, for I too, felt overwhelmed at its gravity. Presented to me was the semblance of Chloe, but before I could feel any joy, or worry, or sympathy, or fear, I had to go outside myself, and into her, for if indeed she was my self/other, she needed me, whole and unconditional. I began to move toward her cowering figure, buttressed as it was by cold walls, and I moved with all the gentleness I could muster, with an ebb and flow befitting liquid, so as not to startle, so as not to dare. I had to engender trust from this birth, from this unknown genesis, for if she knew not who I was, she must somehow quickly acquire that I am her dominion, her guide, her conductor and even her passenger, bode as we are to be both teacher and student in our wiser space. Chloe for her part never broke from her countenance, if one could call it that, with her shortness of breath still unfamiliar, her eyes darting from source to source, her body clenched and minimized into the tightest ball, shivering a little, despite the heat. I approached her with all my delicacy, till I felt I could get no closer without raising alarm, as Chloe’s eyes finally began to focus on me, her original reflector, executor, and bringer of her soul. I whispered so softly the only word I could ever utter at that moment, the only word that ever even mattered.


“Chloe?”

Her first response to this was nil, so I began to extend my hand to her, ever so slow. This motion was met with extreme horror and fear, as Chloe pushed herself against the wall with whatever might she had, as if trying to push through, back to her netherworld where the dead ones go. But this was futile, and I had to show her a different way. I continued my soft motion toward her, just the smallest amount, but enough to show my control. I whispered again, in the same tone.


“Chloe, it’s okay. It’s me, Anna.” I allowed this to sink in for a moment, to indicate calm, and acceptance. But there had to be progression as well, for I knew that to be Chloe she had to be treated as Chloe, for this calling would form her identity sooner than any device or will, and deliver her, broken or not, unto her world. I moved then with my usual gait back toward my supply bag, where I removed the clothes I had brought for her. Chloe, for her part, remained still, or at least as still as her spasms allowed. Clothes in hand, I returned to her, this time continuing my normal body movement, which did in fact horrify Chloe in some tremendous way, as she darted to a new place, then back again, consumed as she was by sudden terrible contortions of flight over which she had no control. She had put herself in some real peril at that moment, flicking herself about with no regard for the angle of her naked limbs and their contact with the hard surfaces of wall and floor, so I had to act, I had to put an end to her flailing before she hurt herself, and this needed a shock, something to arrest her will however instinctual. Quite simply, I yelled at her.


“Chloe! Stop!” Which, to my amazement, she did. For the briefest division of time, I felt in control of the situation. Then, I saw Chloe’s eyes dart yet again, but this time in new horror, to something behind me, to something I could tell was foreign to her, and she was filled with a new fear multiplied greater than all fear that had come before. It was justified. It manifested itself from without as another scream, but this time neither mine nor hers. I turned in fright to see Doris, standing behind me, her mouth agape, emanating shrill. Doris had seen enough, and too much. My mother, our mother, ran from the room back into the outside night.