TWO LOUD THUMPS
My dream of James was equally as vivid as the two loud thumps and my burning Chloe- blood, so as I stumbled from my bed toward the sound source, I was caught between the two worlds, not knowing if my realities had been reversed and I was hearing thumps in my dream. But such is the power of the nether-world, and I would wish only later that I had indeed stayed across that River, in that dream-realm, for the brutishness of what was real was about to hit me and leave me forever cold.
I descended the stairs. The house was still pitch dark, as it must have been very deep in the night. I had no desire to cast actual light rays upon anything, so I tread lightly toward where I could see Chloe’s form, standing, near the front door. As I descended and grew closer to her, I could see the two shapes at her feet. Their definition soon became clearer, and my dreaded suspicions were confirmed, for there is nothing else in our lives that approximates the sound of a human body hitting a floor (in this case two), and from the second I heard those two loud thumps, my instincts awoke, and I knew.
I suffered under a flood of information regarding how to proceed. Whose bodies were these? Were they dead? Did Chloe do it? Why did Chloe do it? Were the authorities chasing her here? Did anyone see her? Where did she find the strength? How? Why? (And all the vast corollaries of these.)
If there was any good news to be had, it was that Chloe appeared calm, standing blankly, looking precisely as she always did since she had adjusted to her rebirth. I took soft steps until I was just a couple feet from the bodies before her. I knelt down, being careful to maintain my eye contact with Chloe as much as I could, thinking perhaps foolishly that she may think my pose a threat, when all I wanted to do was identify the bodies. I didn’t need to look too closely at them, for I soon recognized them both. On my left was Coach Holden, fully clothed. On my right was Paolo, in boxer shorts and a tank top. I sensed no breath emanating from either of them. Still, I reached out to touch their skin, at the closest parts of their bodies that presented themselves to me. I held no medical technique to tell if a person was dead or not, I just trusted my instinct on the matter. Coach’s neck was cold, as was Paolo’s arm. But more telling than the temperature was the sickness my touch sprung within me, hitting me like a blade severing purity, and it took all my resolve to maintain outward calm, as I retreated my fingers from the corpses back to my side. I stayed crouched as I looked up again at Chloe, who by now was looking down at me with a gentle, tender gaze. I spoke carefully, but with reciprocity.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
Chloe’s demeanor changed slightly, as I sensed a pang of guilt in her. She shifted her gaze away from me, something I hadn’t seen her do since her rebirth. It suggested another level of consciousness, of self-awareness. She was growing as a person in front of my eyes. She was struggling to answer me, and I left the silence intact, to facilitate her advance, and hinder her escape. Responsibility comes hard. Finally, she began to mutter.
“Now James will be quarterback again.”
I knew instantly what this meant. The horrible fear that I had felt in the middle of the previous night had now been fully realized. Chloe was acting upon my subconscious desires. Chloe had heard me call Paolo a runt, and Coach Holden nuts. But what I really wanted was the both of them gone. I wanted this from the base of my spine to the furrow in my brow. I wanted Paolo gone ever since that day of the rock face, when I was squashed against him in the car, when he came on to me in the woods, when I kicked him in the groin, and later when he took the place of James on the football team. And I wanted Coach Holden gone ever since I heard him yell at James, then yell at me, and now for James’ demotion. I didn’t wish them any harm. I just wished they didn’t exist. And Chloe in all her innocence had simply delivered that to me.
But in the here and now, unlike my epiphany in the night, I couldn’t afford to lapse into the comfort of unconsciousness. Chloe refocused her stare upon me, with a look that begged conclusion. My mind bent into a controlled reel, and I prioritized best I could.
“Did anyone see you do this?” I asked. Chloe paused, but I could see her mind working. She was doing her best, too.
“No,” she said. I would have to accept that for now, even though I was very curious as to the details of how exactly these two large males were extracted from wherever they had been and duly deposited here dead. This begged my next question.
“Did they see you do this?” I asked, motioning toward the corpses. This time Chloe was quicker and surer to respond.
Again, I had to believe her. I didn’t want to press Chloe, blame her, or risk getting her defensive. The onus was all on me, and I had to keep things moving forward.
And there was no way I was going to let those bodies stay dead.
Firstly, we couldn’t afford the scrutiny of a missing persons investigation, much less a murder case. Both Chloe and myself were apt to crack under that, for sure.
But I even surprised myself at how quickly I committed to their reanimation, to repeating the Vodou ritual, to reassuming my role as the master priestess. Didn’t I in fact want both these males gone? Yes, but in essence that goal had already been achieved. If I was to bring them back to life, they wouldn’t be like they were before, in their first lives. They would be under my sway, in strict obeisance to me, my conscious and unconscious desires, and as such they would be toothless, mere shells of their former selves, and this thought alone begged me forward with the task, and brought a smile to my tired face. Then, in a moment most remarkable, I looked up at Chloe, and she was smiling too, ever so slightly, and I knew in that instance that she had anticipated this all along, she knew that if she brought me these two dead bodies, these two loud thumps, that I would revive them both, and give them new lives, but under our rules, in our domain, with our entices governing them both. I was moved and terrified in equal parts, and wondered intensely at how this realization in Chloe came to be.
Then I remembered. Chloe had seen me resuscitate our mother. I had suspected Chloe’s comprehension at that time, but I had severely underestimated its depth and degree. Chloe had not only observed the ritual, she knew profoundly what it meant, she understood the elements of control, the master/servant relationship, the rebirthing… seemingly everything. And why shouldn’t she? I felt so foolish. Chloe had an advantage over me in the whole, for she had been the subject in the ritual, and therefore had a knowledge of it that I could never approach. Chloe knew what it was like to come back from Death, while I was still a plebe, enslaved to the First Life, by very definition an amateur. Indeed, it seemed Chloe, not I, was the true Doyen of the Deceased, growing in second sentience with each rediscovered breath, whereas I felt tired, panting, gasping, grasping, trying to keep up. Did I control the ritual, or did the ritual control me? I clung to my formal priestly status, for it held all my significance, and as far as I knew the ritual was unbending, and the zombi still looked to me for guidance. I alone was the giver of New Life, so I alone could govern it. Yes? At least that was my knowledge of it, fresh as it was, and I needed that confidence.
But more musing would have to wait, for soon night would yield to morning, and Chloe and I had much to do before then. I quickly decided that I could not revive the bodies there, in the Appleby house, but instead they would need to be resuscitated in their own comfortable environment, or as close to it as was manageable. Chloe and I would have to take them home. Though I thought Chloe would be an easy accomplice, I sensed I still had to choose my words carefully. I stood before her as I spoke.
“Chloe, we’re going to take them to their own homes, where you found them. Please put them in the trunk of the car.” And with that Chloe wasted no time in picking up both bodies in quick succession, hoisting them onto each shoulder as if they were sacks of rice, and though she did exert herself, the feat was still awe-inspiring and somewhat frightening, since it was indeed superhuman. Her ridiculous strength was a distraction — it made me think of what Coach and Paolo might do if and when they wielded such potentially destructive force. Wouldn’t such power go to one’s head, especially if one might be prone to impulses sprouting from inflamed testosterone? The burden of all my worries was starting to wear upon me greatly, so much so that I simply had to maintain a forward physical momentum, I had to keep doing something — act first and put the consequences away in some mind compartment, to be unlocked later, when I could afford to panic and sweat. I trailed the surreal sight of Chloe trudging to the car, dead bodies on her shoulders, following her example of simple physical motions, each leading to the next, until our tasks were done. In the garage, I opened the trunk, and she dropped the bodies unceremoniously in, and the car bounced and shuddered under the weight of them, but I put this disturbing factoid out of my mind. I simply closed the trunk, grabbed the supplies, got in the car with Chloe, and drove off into the wee hours of the night.
The next hurdle was navigation. Where did Coach and Paolo live? And how the hell did Chloe know? I could understand perhaps that she had visited Paolo’s house before, in her first life, since Paolo was in fact James’ friend (hey, if the Greeks taught us anything it’s that even Gods can have a weakness). But Coach Holden? It seemed far-fetched that she would know where he lived, I mean, interacting with teachers outside school grounds was impossibly peculiar, and avoided by students worldwide en masse. But this was the new Chloe, the same sixteen-year-old girl who had just hoisted two grown dead men onto her shoulders with alarming nonchalance. Who knows what other powers she could harness? Perhaps she simply sniffed Coach Holden out, was drawn to him like predator to prey, through a combination of factors, olfactory and extrasensory. You hear of animals achieving amazing feats of triangulation, finding lost owners or retracing ancient tracks of their ancestors. Then there are those stories of animals prophesying physical phenomenon, like earthquakes and lightning strikes and solar flares. The point is, there is a universe of ability out there untouched by humans, out of our realm, masked further by the extreme narcissism so ingrained in our species. Perhaps Chloe now had approached a more pure animal state of being, and had acquired some of its humble grace that bestows power without the asking. But this was just my theory, and I had no more time for it, as I asked Chloe which way to turn the car, and she told me, left, right, right, left. Thankfully there was no traffic in our small three a.m. town. Soon we were parked in front of Coach Holden’s home. Chloe told me that he lived alone. Good.
My curiosity as to how Chloe had forced entry at Coach’s home soon abated, as I tested the front door locking mechanism, which Chloe had rendered completely useless. I imagined that she had simply broken through it with her grip, twisting the doorknob until it gave way. Such an entry still would have given her reasonable stealth, I thought. Coach’s home was modest to say the least, a one-bedroom bungalow decked out with cheesy sports paraphernalia, and messy in a way that suggested it had never surrendered to a woman’s touch. Chloe followed me with the body through its darkness. I spotted an area in the living room that would serve our purposes, and I had Chloe drop him on the floor there.
Now came the part I was dreading the most, but at least I had Chloe to help me. I instructed her to remove Coach’s clothes, which she did with machine-like precision and no hesitation or disgust. Once he was denuded I had Chloe toss his clothes randomly about the floor. Then I noticed a bottle of whiskey on the mantle. I took it and gingerly sprinkled some liquor over his clothes and onto the floor, then placed the open bottle on the floor next to his pasty hulk. I didn’t have anything too specific in mind with the whiskey, just the idea that when he awoke, he might think he had gotten himself drunk and passed out naked, as one does. It was a lame plan, grounded in implausibility, but I didn’t care, he was going to come back to life all confused anyway, right? I then adorned the rubber gloves, because I needed whatever barrier I could get between myself and that revolting slab, never mind the poison. Finally I started applying the balm. Thick rolls of flabby cellulite buckled and swelled like waves under my touch, and this action literally brought my bile to the top of my throat. Coach was covered in weird freckles and birthmarks that resembled dying mildew more than anything else. It was like he didn’t believe in bathing, such was his devotion to sweat, his perspiration pooling in his pores until it rotted and stank and become puss-like barnacles all crusty with mold stinking like cheese. One could only imagine how his corpse would putrefy, the death of the flesh yielding to the victory of the Limburger, until vermin stuffed themselves with his decomposing meat. Honestly, thinking of a blanket of rats devouring him to his bones was comedy enough to get me through the act of oiling him up, so I focused on that image, and went about the nasty task, closing my eyes when I could. All the while, Chloe just stood, and watched. She had seen the ceremony before, so I didn’t think there was any harm in her seeing it again. It would have been more risky, I think, if I forbade her. Then who knows what she might have thought, for thinking in Chloe had now so obviously occurred.
At last I finished lubing him up, then suddenly felt like a whore. Fuck, is all I thought. I stood and took Chloe by the hand, leading her to the room adjacent. We had a clear path to the front door from our new position, and I could still see the body prone in the next room. My plan was simple: perform the ritual, then at the last moment before his rebirth, just before I murmured the crucial live-giving chant, Chloe and I would have one foot out the door, ready to flee as Coach would awaken alone, disoriented, perhaps deranged, but alive nonetheless. I had decided that whatever happened to him after that would have nothing to do with me and Chloe. He would be on his own, and I wouldn’t care about him in the least. Maybe he’d just be a frightened animal, akin to Doris’ condition, but unchained, loose upon the world with that ridiculous zombi strength. Maybe he wouldn’t last very long before the police got him, before a SWAT team shot him down. Maybe he would just bump about, mumbling vague details about what happened to him, Christ he could even mention “Anna” by name, though I’m not sure what good that would do him. No one would believe him, he would be just another middle-aged breakdown, fine one day and ranting the next, destined for heavy therapy and meds. It happens every day in small towns everywhere, right? But maybe he would rebound better than that, maybe he would act normal and cover it all up, like anyone with any shred of dignity would do, I mean, who wants the world to know that you got drunk, got naked, got lubed and blacked out?
But who cares. All I knew was that he wasn’t ever going to receive any guidance from me, his one and only zombi priestess, the only one on Earth who could ever give him guidance, and purpose, stimulus, and peace, for I said the final words from the next room just like I planned it, I said “…eveiller… zombi,” heard Holden twitch, and then grabbed Chloe and ran, slamming the front door behind us. We never looked back. In a flash we were in that car and off to our next destination, Paolo’s house. I must admit I felt quite a twinge of satisfaction. The plan actually worked! We had gotten away with murder!
I mean to say, I really didn’t want to murder anyone. We had covered up a death. Yes, that’s better. You know what I mean.