I knew the Paolo situation was more delicate than Coach Holden’s, mostly because Paolo was a teenager living with his family, whereas Coach was just another middle-aged loner-loser indebted to no one. I only had a few minutes to concoct a plan as I drove, since we lived in a small town, and Paolo’s house wasn’t far.
I parked sufficient distance away and instructed Chloe to follow me with the body quietly to Paolo’s backyard. My ruse was simple: we would dump Paolo on the ground outside near his house, then, once resurrected, Chloe and I would dash off much like we did with the Coach, and Paolo would awaken, naked, alone and confused, but just another perverted middle-American teenage boy wandering around his neighborhood in the middle of the night, nude. Christ, I almost thought about calling the cops on him. I could pretend to be some disturbed insomniac neighbor, screaming over the phone, “he was masturbating at my window, officer!” I must tell you, it was very tempting, and I almost laughed out loud at the thought. But I dared not compound one crime with another, it was just too risky.
I won’t bore you with too many details of the Paolo rebirth. It all went like clockwork, and the ritual was becoming rote to me, but not in a bad way. Even after only four revitalizations, I considered myself something of a specialist, and I imagined that no matter how many times I would repeat the process, I would never tire of it, even if it was tinged with a most palpable fear, for the Dark Arts are never dark if not unknown, and I could feel a surge of electric dread unnerve me whenever I uttered the final, “zombi.” It was exhilarating, to be sure, but it faded fast, and I was left to my worries, the infinite combinations of wrong that could befall me following the release of a new soul into a world webbed with betrayal. My only reservation regarding the ritual itself was the anointing phase, for it required a foray into a world far too physical for my tastes. Who on Earth would want to touch the naked Paolo? Sure, he was firm and young, unlike the masticated Holden. But he was no less revolting, no less masculine, no less so unforgivingly alpha. Really, his death and subsequent regeneration was his only salvation, his only hope for absolution from proliferating in a world that needed him like the plague. I was his instrument of deliverance. At least that’s what I told myself, as I closed my eyes and rubbed him down, feeling disgusted, emboldened, half-doctor, half-shaman, all powerless and powerful at once.
With the weighty word spoken, and Chloe and I fleeing with frantic rustling fading behind us, I could console myself briefly again in the deed accomplished, and return home. I deemed to put Coach and Paolo from my mind forever, and concentrate on the object of my devotion, my new self, my new other, my new Chloe. What a wonder and mystery she was to me now.
Once home, I led Chloe directly upstairs and to her bedroom. We still had a couple hours to catch some much needed sleep before we had to get ready for the upcoming school day. I didn’t want to engage Chloe too much after all the tumultuous events of that night. Far too much had gone on for perhaps either of us to process. But I had to say a few carefully chosen words. I wanted Chloe to know how I felt. I owed her that much. Chloe lay down in bed, her eyes upon me. I sat next to her and spoke.
“Chloe,” I said, “I don’t think it’s right to kill people. That’s just how I feel. Do you understand?” Chloe looked at me with her blank gaze.
“But you make them alive,” she said. This told me that Chloe understood the whole progression of the evening. She hadn’t gone out to kill anyone. She had gone out to give them new life.
“Yes,” I said, “but next time, come to me first, before you leave the house.” Chloe’s gaze shifted, and she looked at me strangely perplexed.
“But… you wanted me to go,” she said. “Now James will be quarterback again.”
“But how do we know that? I didn’t tell them that.”
“But it’s what you want.” I couldn’t lie to Chloe.
“Maybe,” I said, “but can you just come to me before you leave the house? Please?” Chloe looked away from me, and for a brief moment I thought I was losing her. I spoke quickly, trying to repair the bond between us. “It’s just because I worry about you. I worry that you might get hurt, or lost, or caught, or… something terrible, and I could never bear that, because I love you so. Do you understand?” Chloe’s eyes went blank again, but they weren’t wavering, or cruel, they were just… there. She looked right into me, past me even.
“You’re my sister,” she said.
“And you’re mine.”
“Just tell me to be right.” I wasn’t sure how to take this. Chloe wanted guidance from me, but why? Would she waver and do bad things if I didn’t tell her to “be right?” Or was it less ominous than that, was she truly a tabula rasa receiving my subconscious will, in need of something more firm, more spoken, more prevailing, more secure. Perhaps she was floating suspended in an arduous space, wanting a tether to something immovable, reaching for tenets I had yet to provide. Maybe a charge to “be right” was all she required, from there the bedrock was laid and she could lead a virtuous next life. I had to seize quickly this opportunity she had so graciously laid before me.
“Okay, Chloe. Be right.” Chloe smiled at me, and I smiled back. “I’m telling you to be right,” I repeated. I thought it was okay to do that, what with both of us smiling like we were. Then Chloe beamed at me even more. With each passing second my heart flooded with a rare joy.
“Anna?” Chloe said to me, her voice sweet through her smile. “Can you hold me?” I had to choke back tears of delight.
“Of course, my love!” Chloe sat up in bed, and we put our arms around one another and embraced, except that Chloe still didn’t seem aware of her newfound physical prowess, so she gripped me like a vice and clamped herself shut. Air emptied instantly from my lungs as I coughed for breath.
“Chloe!” I managed to yelp. “You’re hurting me!” In less than a second, Chloe released me, and blood once again filled my chest cavities. Chloe looked genuinely shocked, so I appeased her. “It’s okay,” I said, still gasping a little, “it’s okay. You just don’t know your own strength yet. But you’ll learn.” Chloe still appeared full of guilt and self-loathing.
“But I hurt you! I can never hurt you!”
“No, you didn’t hurt me. See? I’m fine. Just don’t squeeze so tight. Here…” I took her arms and wrapped them around me. “Now just pat me gently, like I’m fragile, made of glass. See?” Chloe moved her arms awkwardly over my skin, but I could sense she was reassured, and that her joy and her smile were coming back.
“I can’t hurt you.”
“You won’t.” I released Chloe’s arms from around me. “Now let’s get some sleep.” I rose from the bed. Chloe slunk back under the covers. I swear she was asleep before I left the room.