We could barely stop giggling for the entire car ride home. We giggled more than we spoke. Silence would come intermittently before titters would begin anew, unaccompanied by any reference to which specificity they referred, for that wasn’t necessary, the whole matter held too much gold. Once I wheeled the car into its garage home and we were safely ensconced, there was a palpable sense of lament among us that the frivolous episode had come to its merry conclusion. Which is not to say we were going to initiate any fresh rounds of zombifications. Much of our mutual joy rest dependent upon our resourcefulness, on how we emboldened ourselves to dire circumstance and laughed in its face. We were absolutely confident that we had escaped certain persecution yet again, and that the entanglement of the various victims of ceremony that we had unleashed upon the town would hold, in a web of firmament secure, despite a fragility made apparent by instantaneous rumination. But no sense crying over that spilt milk, as the saying goes. We could afford to rest on our laurels. What else were we going to do.
We entered the house and me and Chloe both stood in the kitchen looking at each other with that air of expectancy like neither of us wanted to let the moment just fade. Between us was electricity as both our synapses fired in unison searching for that perfect continuation. Chloe won the race.
“Hey,” she said, “bet you didn’t know about this!” She took a few steps toward the refrigerator and opened the freezer door. She reached inside and dug around for a few seconds before pulling out a full frosty bottle of something which at first I didn’t know.
“What is that?” I asked in true innocence. Chloe laughed gently at me.
“Vodka, silly! It’s mom’s secret stash! She hides it behind bags of frozen vegetables! I knew you didn’t know!” I grinned a little.
“Was I supposed to know?” I said.
“It’s our job as teenage daughters!” she said. “Usually I just take a little hit and top it up again with water. But we don’t have to worry about that now!” She waved the bottle as she said this, as if to entice me.
“I’ve never tried it,” I said.
“Vodka?” Chloe asked.
“Alcohol,” I said. This prompted Chloe to do a spit-take on air, honest to God.
“Oh my God!” she exclaimed once she regained her countenance. “Oh, sis, we are doin’ this!” She promptly went to retrieve a couple glasses from a cupboard.
Now, to point out here that my attitude toward imbibing cocktails with my sister might be ambivalent is to fall with assured physics into the happy lap of certainty.
First and foremost, I had never imbibed in my life. Sure, I was well-read enough to understand the effects of the Demon Rum. I knew that it guaranteed a lessening of one’s inhibitions, an impairment of one’s better judgment, a loosening of one’s moral standards, and was perhaps the cause of the existence of millions upon millions of drooling human souls walking the earth past, present and future. So then, I thought to myself, at least I could eliminate a drunken conception from the list of my concerns, for James had returned home.
But of course there were other concerns more acute to my current unique relationship with Chloe. The wellspring of the most recent spate of deaths at Griffin Hills High was my own subconscious desires, for wasn’t Chloe merely my instrument of lethal force? Coach, Paolo, James, and even the three footballers — wasn’t their blood on my hands, my sober hands? Were I to lubricate my mind so as to ease more deep unconscious longings unto the world, who knows what might become? The entire school could end up pilloried lifeless on my front lawn, and the authorities might just execute me on the spot for that one. And what of Chloe? Would the alcohol affect her in such a way as to unbalance whatever equilibrium bubbled through her zombi blood? Would she become too powerful for her own good, smashing everything, everyone, she touched? I had to voice my concerns to her, even as she appeared before me, clinking two empty glasses together, on her face an evil grin, in her eyes the devil’s own mischief.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I said. “What if it makes me think horrible thoughts? What if…”
“Just tell me not to,” Chloe interrupted, anticipating my very words. “Besides,” she continued, “it’s not like you really want the whole school dead! Your beef was with James, because you loved him so! But he’s taken care of, so, bottoms up!” She put the glasses onto the counter and got ready to pour.
“Wait,” I said, “what about you? Are you sure you won’t go crazy, with your strength and all?” Chloe set the bottle down and gave me a look of mock-seriousness.
“Tell you what. Let’s write down a few rules, stick ‘em on the fridge. You like writin’ shit down, right? That way, there’s no confusion over what’s right. I’ll have to follow the rules because you told me to. Capiche?”
“I’m not sure that will be enough,” I said. “When you hit me, I had asked you to tell me what you were doing. But you just hit me, and you never told me anything. You disobeyed me.” I had been waiting awhile to find the right time to confront her with that. I guess this was that time.
“But you wanted James so bad,” she said. “I mean, sometimes you yourself didn’t even know how bad you wanted him. Your love for him kinda just took over. It was more important than anything. You didn’t care what I was doing. All you were thinkin’ was James James James. You gave me no choice. It was you.”
Shit, she’s got me there. It must have read on my face.
“Come on sis,” Chloe continued, her mood lightening a little bit, “didn’t we just have like so much fun with those dead football dudes?”
“Yeah, but,” I said, because this was the mother of all “yeah, but” moments, “I don’t wanna deal with anymore dead people. Enough is enough.”
“Well then just make that one of the rules! ‘No more dead people’! Then we can get on to some serious sisterly bonding type shit! With alcohol!” And with this last note she grabbed the bottle of vodka and waved it around in my face. I couldn’t help it, she made me smile. And truth be told, we did bond over those three footballers, it was the first time in a long time that me and Chloe had had some real spontaneous fun together.
“Alright,” I said, “let me just get my pad,” and I went off and started thinking about the rules.
“Yes!” shrieked Chloe. “And I will pour! Bartender Chloe, in da house!”
So there I was, upstairs in my room, a modern day Martin Luther, about to author my theses to affix to the refrigerator door. I kept it simple, writing, “Chloe will not leave the Appleby home for any reason, including whatever Anna may be thinking at any time, and Chloe will in no way cause the death of anyone either directly or indirectly, including any death based upon whatever Anna may be thinking at any time.” Okay it wasn’t so elegant but it was writ with a shaky hand, and I wanted one sentence to carry it to summation, for it would force Chloe to ingest it whole — one law, indivisible, et cetera, et cetera. I carried the decree downstairs, and, in my mind’s ear, trumpets blared and crowds hushed as I descended unto the king’s promenade when in fact it was only Chloe in the kitchen with two large glasses full of ice and clear liquid. I nailed the rules with a magnet in the shape of a watermelon.
“Lemme see!” said Chloe, running over and looking over my shoulder. “Do you want me to recite it and solemnly swear?”
“That’s actually not a bad idea,” I said, so Chloe cleared her throat in mock austerity and read the sentence aloud, ending with her oath of obedience.
“I solemnly swear!” she chirped happily. “Now, a toast!” She went back to her “bar” at the kitchen banquette and handed me one full glass.
“What is it?” I asked.
“That’s it?” Even a newbie like me knew that you usually mix hard alcohol with something.
“It’s like a martini or some shit. What do we care, we’re not drinking for the taste, we just wanna get wasted!” I was acutely aware of the look of apprehension suddenly crossing my face, but Chloe ignored this and pressed on, extending the drink at full arm’s length to me. “To our brave new world, and its queen, Anna!” Chloe had the biggest goofy grin. I couldn’t get out of it now. I clinked her glass, and we both took our swigs.
I’ll assume that most of you, my readers, have imbibed at one time or another in your respective lives, so I won’t bother you too much with the details of my very first taste, other than to say that when that liquid hit the back of my throat and trickled down into me, it felt like acid that was on fire that would burn its way throughout the entirety of my body stripping away all my innards into a pool collecting in my toes, and I coughed and gasped and ran to the sink to get some water to put out the flames. Chloe, of course, laughed.
“Good, isn’t it!” she said.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the giddiness to start kicking, and then, just as Chloe predicted, I was ready for more, I wanted to become even more stupid, and happy, and forgetful, and I didn’t care what I had to endure to get there, so we made a joke of it, and after awhile, the burn of the damn stuff didn’t really seem to bother me that much, and I realized that I was becoming numb, and that this numbness was, for lack of a better phrase, fucking awesome. It was the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long that I experienced a sustained period of relative serenity, augmented as it was by not-infrequent bouts of vertigo, nausea, and general overall gaucherie. But my worry was diminished, and this alone was worth all the poison in the world. Indeed, the fear of my own loss of inhibition that had consumed me just a short time ago now seemed a trifling pettiness, for I was with my self/other, and whom else could I share myself with, if not her? The more I drank, the more I felt certain that I could share anything with Chloe, especially considering all we had endured together in the preceding week. I think Chloe felt the same as I did, for as we sat in the lounge on the sofa together, casually sipping our cocktails like the sophisticated ladies of leisure we were, it didn’t take long for her to bridge the one topic that we were sure to air that night.
“So,” she said, “when exactly did you fall in love with James?”
“When do you think? The first time I laid eyes on him!”
“Now how many girls do you think can say that?”
“Pretty much every girl at Griffin Hills!”
“And the teachers!”
“Male or female!”
“I never tried to steal him from you, I swear. I just saw him, and everything just kinda clicked.”
“You’re a ho-bag!”
“Come on! I was pure when I met him! Bet that surprised you.”
“It did. I thought for sure you lost it back in California.”
“I almost did. Came real close a bunch of times.”
“How do you ‘come real close’?”
“Do you really wanna know?”
“No. Maybe later. Maybe I need more drinks for that.”
“Now we’re talkin’!”
“But why then? Why James?”
“I didn’t plan it, I swear. I was just lookin’ down at him, and he looked all sweet and shit, so I just picked it up and put it in. Nothin’ to it really.”
“You would have done the same.”
“But do you see him for who he really is?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well everybody thinks he’s just a gorgeous jock, you know? The quarterback. They don’t see him like I do.”
“So who is he, if he’s not that?”
“He’s sensitive. He’s got pain behind his eyes. He saw me, last Friday. He saw me like nobody has ever seen me before. He looked at me, and…”
“Nobody loves him like I love him,” I sobbed. Chloe shifted over on the sofa to embrace me and I let her.
“You’re right. Nobody loves him like you. Not me or anyone else. If it makes you feel better, he’s probably lost that part of him, now that he died and all. Now I think he’s just a jock and that’s it.” What Chloe said didn’t make me feel any better at all, it made me feel worse. I cried harder.
“See?” I wept. “Do you see how I fuck everything up? I ruined the most beautiful thing I ever saw, just like I ruined everything!” Chloe squeezed me harder but not too hard like before.
“That’s bullshit! Come on! We’re drinking to celebrate the awesomeness of you! You bring people back and make them all better! James loves you!”
“He loves you.”
“He loves Anna.”
“Well he’s still hot, right? Maybe he’ll get everything back. Who the fuck knows? I sure don’t, so don’t listen to me.”
“Now you’re just trying to make me feel better.”
“Is it working?
“Well then have another drink you loser, we’re here to have fun!” Chloe let go and went to fill my glass to the top even thought it was already more than half full. “I wanna toast to your genius! To Anna Appleby, Giver of Life and Queen of the Dead! You’ll go down in history, bitch!” She raised her glass with so much enthusiasm I had no choice but to laugh through my tears.
“You’re the bitch,” I said, in jest.
“That I am,” she said as we clinked glasses and drank. The liquid burn felt deserved down my throat, and I gulped with gusto. I remember thinking, so this is what booze does to a person, makes them laugh one second and cry the next and then go back to feeling all numb and you try to forget and find that you can. The burn is just a sacrifice, because everything has a price.
“Are you different?” I asked Chloe. “You know, from before?”
“How could I not be?” she said, and left it at that, begging my questions.
“I dunno. I just feel like I’ve seen a bunch of dark shit. And I hear your voice in me, like, all the time now.”
“Does it drive you crazy?”
“No, it’s fine. What does drive me crazy is you getting all fucking morbid and shit. We’re here to have fun! No more talking about heavy shit, okay? I forgive you already! And screw James! Oh wait, I already did!” And with that she cackled a hearty fake laugh and I could tell she really wanted to just tease me all night long until I cracked and had to laugh along with her and thanks to the cocktails I sure as hell did.
From that moment on the night gradually slipped away into cloudy miasma of broken consciousness. Only three more events that evening would ingrain themselves on my memory with any form of permanence. Firstly, I remember insisting that I read a particular Ms. Emily poem to my sister. I remember her balking at this but I read her the poem nonetheless. It was the one that began, “My life had stood — a Loaded Gun…” and as I read it, I remember Chloe stopping me right before I finished. She stopped me on the line, “For I have but the power to kill…” She cried out, “STOP!” and then tried to say something like, now for the first time she understood why I fell so hard in love with Emily Dickinson, that it was all clear to her, that we were both fucking freaks out there killing people. Before I could reprimand her, Chloe told me to shut up, then she put on some of her really loud obnoxious pop music on the boombox, grabbed my hand and told me to dance with her. That was the second event I would remember, me dancing drunkenly hand-in-hand with Chloe to music that I hated. But I remember laughing.
The last thing I remember was Chloe saying she was playing hooky from school tomorrow. After that things went dark.