THE TALE OF THE THREE FOOTBALLERS
I walked to the source of the scream which was the kitchen. My pace was average and full of no alarm, as my experience of the past several days had numbed me to any emergency. If Chloe had informed me that she had assassinated the entire student body, I would have sighed and shrugged and grabbed a good book, resigned to the fact that lethal injections get handed down for the murder of one or a thousand, it makes no difference to the bane.
Upon my entrance I noticed Chloe was breathing quite heavily and appeared quite agitated. This alone was cause for some amusement on my part. I was relieved that she too could feel some consternation at the tumbling hand of Fate, that perhaps it had touched her with the same cold ferocity as befell me in the week preceding. She paused as if it was my duty to enquire. I obliged.
“What happened?” I asked, calmly, since I was already expecting the worst. Chloe’s eyes bulged a little as she spoke. It was as if this was the first time in her new life that something had gone amiss.
“James was playing football. At practice. Anna, I may have made a mistake.” It must be serious if she’s addressing me by name. I interrupted her there.
“He’s in the car, in the garage. He’s fine. I just told him to sit there and do nothing and shut up and wait.”
“And?” I said, referring back to my original question.
“I told him that anyone who plays football against him is going straight to hell. He must have taken that like literally because when he was playing he killed three players. Good thing I was there because I stopped him and we picked up the bodies and put them in the car and came here to see you right away.”
“Did anyone follow you?”
“I didn’t see anyone. We got out of there real fast. I don’t think anyone else knew what really happened.” Kudos for the optimism, Chloe, but our house of cards had just grown tenfold. All our other high school murders had taken place in the cover of darkness — Coach, Paolo, James. The only consequence had been that they showed up at school the next day acting weird, which at your average high school was the most humdrum event imaginable. Now we had three boys murdered in broad daylight in front of at least a couple dozen fellow students. And instead of waiting for the ambulance to arrive, as might happen in most civilized societies, the murderous quarterback and his psycho girlfriend scooped up the corpses like they were bags of flour and raced off with them in their hotrod. It was indeed surreal, bad comedy, brought to my doorstep. I tried to assess the situation best I could, in steely calm.
“We don’t need James here. He just complicates things, and it’s time he went home.”
“Okay,” said Chloe, “I’ll drive him home.” Bless her, she was just trying to help. But I had a better idea.
“No,” I said, “he can walk. We’ve done enough for him, and we have a new problem now.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I’ll go tell James to walk home.” But before Chloe could turn back toward the door to the garage, I stopped her.
“Wait!” I told her, for I knew this was a good opportunity for me to try an experiment. “I’ll tell him,” I said. Chloe looked at me and jerked her head a little, which freaked me out some since I had just seen the same sort of head movement in the mad quirks of Doris and Mr. Spellman in the basement. But I quickly dispensed with any apprehension, ascribing this to some sort of harmless universal zombi tic. Maybe it happens when they are confronted with something that puzzles them, I surmised.
“Will that confuse him?” asked Chloe, with something about her tone convincing me she asked in innocence.
“No,” I said, though of course I wasn’t sure myself. “We look the same. He won’t be able to tell a difference. To him, there’s just one of us.”
“Do you want to change into my clothes?” asked Chloe.
“No,” I said, “it will be okay.”
“But how do you know? James is in love with me.” Dammit, Chloe, I am still your master!
“And you are Anna, and Anna is me! I’ll prove it to you! Stay here, and I will tell James to walk home!” And with my austerity fresh, Chloe had no choice but to sit in one of the banquette chairs and await my return. I walked past her toward the door to the garage.
Perhaps my genesis of this experiment took root in my sleep previous, though I cannot recall dreaming it. But I held onto a general ire, to be sure, regarding Chloe becoming James’ commander instead of I. There was no fairness in that at all, and thoughts surrounding this had hovered over me like a cloud ever since James’ turning the night before.
But there were dangers aplenty. I felt I was testing a primary tenet of the Vodou script. Only I held the power to give life to the deceased, through my own incantation with my original concluding text. There was still something in me and me alone that made it happen.
But in James’ case, a transference had occurred. Instead of accepting my just reward as James’ bokor, and assuming my mastery over him, instead that role fell to Chloe, and James simply obliged, without incident in the slightest. How could this be?
Of course I had theories. First up was the “dumb zombi” theory. From what I have seen of zombis so far, they weren’t terribly bright — they were like babies in grown-up bodies, fucked up from trying to figure shit out, as my sister might say. James might have just been confused at rebirth, and glommed onto our shared visage alone. Made sense, right? But perhaps this was just surface. Vodou had complexities, and my first theory smacked of rationalization.
Maybe there was something in the fact that I had willingly allowed Chloe to assume her role as James’ master. This theory appealed to me, as it meant that I still had control of the ceremony, and that Chloe gained her control of James only at my behest. Yes, I liked this idea.
But if recent experience had taught me anything, it was to consider something more sinister. Worst case scenario was that James was indeed in debt to the new Anna alone, and that I would appear a fresh aberration to him, despite looking, and acting, the same. In this scene, James held some secret knowledge of the difference in our souls — for this version of James, there would always be one Anna, and once Chloe, for the Chloe he knew had been long (one week!) dead. So then to experience my presence would cause… Something tumultuous to be sure, though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. For what else might I be to him but a living breathing ghost? The sane are troubled by phantoms from the grave. Who know what might befall the innocent zombi.
So why, then, would I keep my steps firmly moving as I was just about to enter the garage? The reason being my final theory, of course, the one to which I succumbed, the one which I divulge to you now. James was not bound by any ordinary bokor. He had not arisen in any ordinary ceremony. And Chloe and I were anything but ordinary — or dead, alive, reborn, invisible. We were one, the self/other union coalesced in a pillar of grace, all our life and love and two wholes of one whole buffeting Adonis’ surrender, for we had created our love, we had created our James — we, which was I, which was her, which was us, which was I, all anew.
So I went into that garage.
James was sitting rigid in the passenger seat of the car, still in his football uniform, staring blankly, as if he was still concentrating deeply on Chloe’s simple command. I moved toward him calmly. In the back seat I caught glimpse of a lumpy blanket covering what I assumed to be the bodies of the footballers. But my gaze quickly reverted back to James, for he had made eye contact with me. This was the moment of truth. Would he come at me all crazy? Would he smile and tell me that I, not Chloe, was his one true love? (Allow me this please…) Would he make that crazy head jerk like the others and explode from data overload? Would he… No more time for questions, for he was about to do what he would do.
Which was nothing.
I walked to the side of the car and opened the car door where he sat, and all James did was look at me with the biggest puppy-dog eyes you’ve ever seen, you know the type, like when the puppy has peed all over your new rug and you just wanna kill it but you can’t because the puppy is so damn cute. Truly, it took all my strength in that moment not to just thrust myself onto his body, rip off all his clothes and demand he overpower me. Really and truly. But I stuck to business.
“James,” I said, “I need you to walk home now. You know the way.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, in a sad voice on the edge of tears, “I’m sorry for what I did to my team. I know the difference now. I know how to be right.” Clearly Chloe had given sweet James a familiar little lecture during the car ride to the house. I decided quickly to pretend that her lecture had accomplished its goal, lest I say something contradictory.
“That’s good,” I said. “Now you need to walk to your own house and your own family. Don’t talk about what happened with your team.”
“Alright, alright,” he said, still sweetly, “you don’t have to tell me that again.” With that he got out of the car, helmet in hand. I walked over to the wall button to raise the garage door. As the door noisily opened, the afternoon light pouring in, James turned to me in an ever-developing silhouette and spoke.
“Anna?” he asked me, “you gonna bring my team back, right?” I nearly burst out in joyous tears when he said my name — yet again, I only just kept control.
“Of course,” I said, “it’s what I do.” James smiled at me. As soon as the garage was open enough for him to walk outside without stooping, he left.
I had no time to bask. I hit the button and as soon as the door once again isolated me from the world I inspected the car’s contents. Sure enough, in the back seat, under the blanket, were the inert bodies of two fully-clad football players. I assumed the third was in the trunk. I was correct. I went back inside the house to where Chloe still sat in the kitchen. Time to relish an I- told-you-so moment.
“James is fine. He thought I was Anna, too. He’s walking home now.” (Victory for me! He thought I was Anna! I am Anna! Suck on that, sis!)
Chloe wore the same worried look as before. She didn’t seem to mind about James.
“What do we do about… about the others?” she asked.
“I have to bring them back, of course. It will be tricky. I’ll need your help.”
“Yes. Of course.” Good, I thought to myself. A series of future events where I was in complete control.
“I need to work fast,” I said, “before their parents or other students start looking for them. People saw you leave with them, and we don’t want anyone coming here, for obvious reasons.”
“We should go now. You have to come. I’ll need your help moving them.”
“Where are we going?”
“Someplace secluded, like those damn woods, you remember. Once they’re in place and ready, I’ll say the word and we’ll get out of there fast. Hopefully they’ll wander back and end up like Paolo. Everyone will wonder what the hell you and James were doing, but none of that will matter much, as long as those footballers are alive.”
“Okay,” said Chloe. “You’re so smart. You’re the smart one.” This didn’t mean too much to me, coming from her.
“I’m going to get the supplies and put on my disguise,” I told her, “meet me in the car.” Then I left the room in the most business-like manner I could muster.
We were efficient. Within a matter of minutes I was deftly backing the car out of our driveway, my face shielded behind big dark sunglasses hidden beneath that wide-brimmed floppy hat, my hair stuffed down the back of a hideous polyester floral blouse. Chloe sat alongside still in her school uniform. Our uniformed cargo was appropriately compliant.
I drove carefully, as I always did when incognito, heading toward the general area southeast of town, where the town ended and the woods began, and one could drive for miles and not know the town ever existed. We weren’t going that far. The boys had to find their way home tonight. We didn’t want to make the late news. So after driving just a short while I saw a small road that seemed to dart into the cover of the trees and disappear. I made a U-turn as soon as I could and backtracked to that road. I drove less than a mile down it at which point I parked the car onto the narrow shoulder. I was satisfied that we were sufficiently away from frequent traffic. Also the road was straight enough for a spell so I could see if any other cars were coming from quite some distance in either direction. This would give us time to act. I shut off the engine. Chloe and I both exited the car and waited a moment for the silence to settle. The gods had given us a window and it was up to us to take it. I instructed Chloe to unload the bodies from the car quickly, and stash them all out of sight perhaps fifty feet or so into the woods perpendicular to the shoulder of the road. She had to traverse a small ravine to do so, but she was still in fine possession of her strength, and the task posed no issues for her. While she was hiding the last footballer (the one in the trunk), a car appeared in the distance, driving toward us. I calmly got back in the car and started the engine, ready to drive off should the intruding car slow for any reason. Chloe hid in the woods with the bodies. She knew the drill. Thankfully the car passed without incident, and I shut the engine off again, locked the car, grabbed the supplies and went to join my sister.
I had Chloe drag the footballers deep into the woods. There was no path, so the way was thick with thorns, bramble and leaves falling in the first onslaught of autumn true. I was satisfied we were going no place a human would normally tread. There were no signs of human interference, no empty beer cans or graffiti on a rock or other scars of man. When we came to the slightest of clearings, and I could no longer see the car, I instructed Chloe to stop, and again we just stood in the silence, which is to say a lack of common industry, for all we could hear was the wind and the birds and the trees binding stiff. After a minute of homage to this, a pleasing time which felt much extended, I simply muttered a soft “okay,” and Chloe and I went about the task. It was certainly familiar to us both by now. Chloe disrobed the boys, while I adorned rubber gloves and poured the poison into a large bowl. There wasn’t a large amount of poison remaining, so we had to be careful. This ceremony would require every last drop of what we had left. I sincerely hoped we would never have the need for any more anyway. Surely no one else would have to die.
As Chloe was removing one of the boy’s jerseys, she tore it a little.
“Don’t damage their clothes,” I told her.
“Why?” she asked innocently.
“They’ll need to get dressed, when they come back. Hopefully, they will. Three boys running around naked would only raise more suspicion, and we don’t want that.” Chloe kept disrobing, but with more care. After pouring the poison I went to help her.
I think we were both surprised at how unaroused we were at the task, I mean, we were teenage girls stripping three teenage boys to full nudity. But now we were both like physicians behaving professionally, the bodies being just that — objects of our experiments, organisms to be saved. And the thought that they were technically dead didn’t really register with us, since we both knew that this death was only temporary. It was more like a dark sleep that these fit, not unattractive boys were in. As Chloe removed the last of their uniforms, and I folded them neatly in three separate piles nearby, we both paused before the gravity of what was to come.
“Did you know these boys?” I asked Chloe.
“No,” she said, “they were just football players. I couldn’t tell one from the other.”
“We don’t know their names. It would be better if we knew their names.”
“I don’t know. It would just be better.” I sighed. “We better do this.” With that I retrieved the bowl and placed it centrally. Chloe and I kneeled down before the footballers. We both dipped our hands into the oily poison and began applying it to every last inch of their skin.
“You don’t want gloves?” I asked Chloe.
“No,” she said, “it doesn’t matter to me.”
Allow me to revisit the ceremony, if you may. We rubbed and rubbed, making sure all was well lubed. This meant everywhere. Scalp, between toes, behind ears, lips, eyelids, underarms, belly buttons, and yes, their genital and anal regions. We rolled them over to do their backs and the woodland dirt stuck to their oiled bits making them all messy. We rolled them back and spread what lube we had again. We did this all with stone-faced seriousness and efficiency. That is, until Chloe couldn’t help herself.
“When they come back,” she chortled, “they’ll think they’re fags!”
I thought this comment to be extremely childish, but then my serious façade was broken, and I erupted in laughter like I was eight again. This gave Chloe license to laugh even harder, and we both momentarily lost all decorum and worry for our station, as we buckled over and let howls echo off a distant canyon wall.
“That’s it!” I managed through fits of convulsive mirth, “they’re probably so homophobic anyway that they’ll never say anything about this to anyone! And we get off scot free!”
“That’s so true!” exclaimed Chloe, “football players can’t be fags!”
“No!” I said, “they must be manly men, macho men, man’s man, mister man, manly man man man-y man man!” I grabbed my gut and coughed from too much laughing.
“And…” said Chloe, pausing for effect, “they’re lubed!”
That was it, that was how I would die, from laughing too hard next to my sister zombi and three nude footballers in the woods.
We could hardly finish the job but we did, as I sniggered my way through the incantation, then we both giggled as we retreated to a safe distance, and I yelled out “eveiller zombi!” and we heard some grunts which only made us laugh harder as we ran for the car to get the hell out of there.