CHAPTER 42
THE ECONOMICAL GODS

My awakening the following morning was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Firstly there was no gradual easing from the nether to the sentient, rather a jolt of pain like razors applied to the back of my neck, followed by a numbness shooting down my entire right side, except in a flash it wasn’t a numbness any longer, but an invisible fiery rash threatening to peel away my skin. I rolled over a little and found every movement overburdened with effort, then quickly ascertained that I wasn’t in bed at all, that I was on the living room rug, in a strange contortion as if I had fallen unconscious the second I hit the floor, which I’m sure was absolutely true. Then the sledgehammers started pounding on my forehead, and I knew I was in the grip of that scourge most foul, the most frequently painfully common karma, the hangover.


Of course it was horrible, and I know there will be many among you that need no further extrapolation. But let me add this. The sickness I felt in those moments, the depression, the futility and the unspeakable anguish of knowing that you must take another breath — all of it greeted me like a friend, even though we had never met before. Which is to say, Death took my hand, and I found His bones warm, and I would follow Him to whatever Realm beckoned, it mattered not where, so long as I could no longer be I, and my essence could spread and dissipate and be blown forever and ever till it mixed and wavered and comingled and became fairy. This was the fate which I had welcomed with fastidious acceptance — until, as I writhed a little more on the floor, I saw Chloe’s legs, standing near me. I bent my eyes upward, causing me no small amount of physical torment, and found myself nearly peering up between her bare legs. She hovered above me, standing there, in her cheerleader uniform. Speaking for me was still out of the question, so Chloe spoke first, and graciously, in a whisper.


“Dude,” she said, “it’s like three o’clock.” My eyes shot around the room a little, as much as they could, for even my eyeballs hurt. It was only then that I took notice of the familiar afternoon light bathing the living room. After spending the week home alone, I could tell the time of day from the interior hues and shadows, and it was indeed afternoon. I could hear Chloe sigh. She was expecting a reply to her announcement of the hour. But I had a more relevant question, so with monumental exertion that caused me extreme nausea, I mustered up the courage to attempt words.


“Why are you wearing that?” I said. Suddenly Chloe got all cheerful and loud.

 

“I’m going to the pep rally! Tonight’s the big game!” Her volume accelerated the
sledgehammers.

“But you skipped school.” That didn’t seem to concern Chloe, as she got right to the point.

“Look, I told James I was going to cheer for him, and he’s expecting me. So can I go or not?” That’s what this was about. I was her damn mother and she was asking me permission. I lay there silent for a moment. Then, even in my debilitated state, I thought I said something clever.


“But I’m not a cheerleader,” I told her. Chloe’s face grew quickly stern.

“No, but you’re the school’s totally death-obsessed psycho bitch who masturbates in public until you steal your dead sister’s boyfriend! So I don’t think suddenly becoming a cheerleader is gonna be that big of a reach!”


Touché, bitch.

“Well if you told him you were going, you better go.” Chloe just as quickly flashed a huge stupid grin.


“Thanks sis! And wasn’t last night fun?” Chloe didn’t intend me to answer that, as in an instant she was gone. A few seconds later, I heard the low rumble of the garage door opening, then she drove herself away.


The air had the kind of stillness that happens only once a storm has passed. I sat up against the sofa, ever so slowly. The physical pain I was feeling begged the question — why did Chloe appear so healthy? She acted as if the hangover had missed her completely, and I knew she wasn’t that good an actor. Chalk up another freaky thing about being zombi, I guess.


I wasn’t too perturbed about her invective toward me. It stung of logic, I had to admit. And Chloe, being Chloe, pretending to be Anna — she had indeed achieved what might be called terminal craziness. She could get away with anything now. Nobody would ever again be surprised at anything she would do or say. All the outside, ignorant world would ever see was a teenage girl, Anna, whose identical twin sister Chloe had died. It drove Anna mad. But we all have our own ways of grieving. For Anna, grief meant that she simply had to become her dead sister, she had to become Chloe. Which, of course, was very easy for Anna to do. Anna was Chloe. Which meant she was a cheerleader. Deduction. Simple as that.


Being semi-vertical wasn’t agreeing with me, as I slouched against the sofa, my head feeling like it was floating on a bed of nails. But if it really was three in the afternoon, then I had severely neglected the duo in the basement, for much like one has to feed and walk a dog, so I needed to tend to my bastard children, my mother and her mate. This was my penance I needed to achieve before my second rest, as my body cried out for more slumber, anything to relieve the pain. So I rose to my feet, despite the weight of hundred hangover Daemons laughing in my ear, those busy little runts. Every step I took felt like my last, or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part. I passed the empty bottle of vodka lying akimbo on the floor and the sight of it nearly made me wretch. It seemed like such an enormous feat for two small-ish teenage girls to finish an entire large bottle of sin like that. I put that behind me as I wandered into the kitchen to grab a can of beans, the staple diet of the chained mother-zombi. Then I finally attained the back door leading outside, praying with whatever good was left in me that the sun wasn’t waiting there to burn holes in my bloodshot eyes. Thankfully there was some cloud cover, so maybe there is a God, and I had just wasted a prayer on my own superficial comfort which was most certainly undeserved. Apt.


Upon entering the basement I was greeted with the most foul stench of feces and urine that had ever graced my nostrils. I’ll digress here momentarily as I’m sure many of you fine readers had wondered when I was to broach this topic of biological excrement regarding my two prisoners. I had avoided the subject simply because it disgusted me as much as it would any sane person. And what does it matter in the telling of my story? It adds nothing in the plain of it, and all one needs to know is that it was an issue as relevant to their survival as eat and drink, as indeed it was their remnants. And so it was tended to, and so it needed no recount, until this passage, whereby the very sight of something so horrible, more horrible even than the aforementioned stench, seared my vision with disgust so unholy, that I would not wish it upon my most dire enemy, and yet I am compelled to report it. My mother, and oh the shame I feel to this day at having to claim her as blood — my mother and my teacher, still tied at their respective ankles and wrists, had both well soiled their clothes, but it did not end there. It would seem that both of them had undertaken, like some sick game played by infants, to somehow extract their respective fecal matter from within their clothes, and use it as both paste and projectile, for it was strewn in all manner of randomness, over walls, floor, and most significantly, over each of their own bodies, with a completeness that made my bones shudder at the effort such a coating must have demanded, for it permeated every last crevice of them, their hair, faces, arms and legs and every visible strain. Now I wasn’t clear precisely the manner in which matter was strewn, but I could best surmise two options, both equally as repugnant. Put simply, they had clearly both rolled and tossed in their own, but had also partaken in a gruesome variation of a food-fight, kicking the foul mud with their feet, since that was their only flinging option. Believe me when I say that I took in all this information in a matter of only a few seconds, just long enough to note that as a coup de grâce to this orgy of vulgarity, both my mother and Mr. Spellman were both sitting in large puddles of what could be nothing other than their own pee. With that realization, and sensing a hint of mischief in both their demeanor, I retreated in great haste, slamming the basement door behind me, just in time to kneel down on the nearest grass available, and vomit most vociferously my entire stomach’s contents out onto the lawn.


My wave of sick was soon augmented by an upsurge of tremendous anger, as I cursed those two savage cretins under my breath. They were punishing me, I construed, but I was not going to let them get away with this. Near enough to the door was a garden hose of sufficient length. I went to it quickly and turned the stream on at full, and glorious clean water gushed forth at a pressure more than adequate for my purposes. I held my breath, then took the spurting hose quickly into that basement, and with my eyes averted, put my thumb over the hose-end and proceeded to squirt water blindly but in the proper general direction. The two guilty zombis squealed and squawked, but this didn’t concern me. Only after a minute of unseen spraying did I squint a little to allow a sliver of my targets into my sight. The water was doing its best to dilute the sewage from the scene, thinning the sludge from both surface and skin alike, and I stayed down there spewing a good five minutes before deciding enough was enough. Then I took the can of beans and rolled it to within my soaking mother’s reach. I took the can opener I kept on a nearby shelf and threw it at her too. Serve yourself your own damn beans, I thought, before I got the hell out of there for good.


I went back into the house hoping that the vile distraction might have abated my hangover but this did not happen. I sought water and painkillers before gravitating instinctually toward my bed. When I lay down, just before attaining sleep, I remember thinking of the atrocious odor that struck me when I opened the basement door just minutes earlier. It seemed an odd thing but I knew then that the memory of that smell would stay with me forever. I could close my eyes and it would descend in full upon me with even the slightest of recollections. I am still blessed to retain this ability to this very day.


I know I slept for several hours and that my sleep was dreamless, for I slumbered then only to relieve my pain. But I awoke in a sudden fright, alarmed in the instant by one vision and one vision alone — a high school football night game featuring a certain three footballers, marauding through a throng of innocent opposing players, laying waste to them, one by one, leaving behind a trail of helmeted, mangled corpses, shocked students, and grieving parents. It was a vision so clear as to be prophecy. I leapt up from my bed in a sweat, my self-imposed illness still with me but rendered irrelevant. I tried to ascertain the time — I kept no clock, but it was dark outside, so I had to move quickly. I think the game started at seven or seven-thirty or who the hell knows, I just know that I have to get myself down there if I’m to have any hope of saving innocent lives from my trio of accidental assassins. That was my vision, anyway.


While getting dressed in my mom disguise I began to plan my trip and quickly remembered that Chloe had taken the car. Fuck! I weighed my other options and decided against the small-town taxi service in favor of a bicycle, for this ran the least risk of revealing my identity. The downside was that the high school was three miles away, and as I’m sure you know by now, I’m no athlete. Still, I hoped that my paranoia would morph into adrenaline and I could get there before the stadium imploded in chaos. In less than a minute I was down in the garage, mounting the one bicycle the family shared as a unit, trying to remember the last time I rode it, realizing I could count my lifetime of cycling experiences on one hand. No matter, I could feign aptitude well enough, and I was off.


The ride passed sooner than I had anticipated. There was little traffic, and not too many hills, none that I couldn’t ascend without dismounting. This seemed unusual especially considering the undulating terrain surrounding the town. The relative flatness was certainly something I had never noticed before. Then I caught myself. How had my mind strayed to such innocuous thoughts? Had I become immune to all impending disasters? It’s funny how one week of heartbreaks and deaths and resurrections and assorted poo flingings can change a person.


As I approached the high school I became hardened again. I could see the stadium lights in the near-distance glowing above the trees in the Ohio night. I could hear the hum of the crowd punctuated by cheers. This was the first positive sign that indeed bedlam had not yet ensued, for where were the screams and other assorted manifestations of terror? Perhaps the game was yet to start, I thought, so I still had to move with utmost haste and purpose. Thankfully I had attended the school just long enough to familiarize myself with its basic geography, which served me well as I tried to maneuver to a sufficient vantage point where I could remain unseen by the masses. The most obvious option was the one I chose — under the bleachers, the very same place where just one week earlier I had made my first experiment with the dead frog exploring the primal Vodou. For the briefest of moments, I felt a sensation akin to shock as I considered the scope of my journey. Everything had changed so much. Everything.


As I moved carefully into position, staying in the shadowy stripes, any noise I made was lost in the din of football, of screams of joy and stomping on metal and clapping and cheers. It became quickly clear to me that the game had indeed started — in fact when I caught a sidelong glance of the scoreboard, I saw it was over halfway finished. I inched forward with more stealth than was probably required, for the crowd seemed enthralled with the proceedings and would never pay me any mind. When I got my fuller view of the scoreboard, I could see why. It read, “Griffin Hills 63, Plainfield 0.”


Was this score the result of the opposing team being literally slaughtered out on the field? Were bodies piling up left and right and the crowd cheering in bloodlust? The answer was no. Though my view was largely obstructed, I could see just well enough to observe that the visiting team was alive and well, just getting thoroughly outplayed by a few of our local boys, who muscled their way through them as a knife through butter. Of course these were the three footballers, I thought — one of them, two, or perhaps all three. I didn’t know who they were, I didn’t know their names or numbers or what they were supposed to be doing out there, all I knew is that the same players seemed to be pushing the other team aside and tackling and in general doing football things quite successfully, or so I gathered, based on the evidence of the score and the reaction of the crowd.


Then I moved laterally with the field, past the figures of Coach and Paolo on the sidelines, the forever-dummies that they were, because in the corner of my eye I saw a familiar flash of color. Out there, amidst the autumnal browns, greens and greys, bright magenta interfered, like a laser mowing down the jungle. And this particular magenta-clad individual was bobbing up and down like a pogo on steroids. Chloe, all a-flurry, all pom-poms and bare knees and squealing cheers at the peak of human frequency — and the thing was, she wasn’t alone. All around her the other girls, numbering about eight and clad in a much darker bluish hue, followed her same routine, in what looked to fresh eyes like careful choreography. They kicked and twirled and jumped and shook and kicked and gyrated and it was all a little slutty like one might expect, and I knew Chloe was their leader, aglow in the middle as she was, and it wasn’t just her insane magenta that made her pop to the eye, it wasn’t just that she was in the middle conducting the other girls like insects buzzing around a flame, it wasn’t even just that with the noise of the crowd and the game and the whistles and the metallic groan of the grandstand itself that the shrill of Chloe’s cheer cut through it all — no, it was the sheer overwhelming, colossal and monstrous confidence she espoused, it shot out from her like an incendiary call to arms, as if the whole of the will of the world lay at her feet, and she could make minions fall and rise at her decree, and they would follow, this contagion, this plague, this cheerleader, this sister, this Anna, this me.


Anna now ruled the school, except I was not she.

Then, of course, as the crowning stroke in the inverted universe of my own sweet and toxic creation — James, number 6, trotting over to kiss his Anna on the mouth, his girl who wasn’t me, his cheerleader sweetheart, his all-American dream, before donning his helmet and going for glory on the football field, and you can be sure that glory came easily to a man/boy/God riddled with hormones, emboldened by Death, enhanced by Magicks and promised Reward, which in this case meant no doubt carnal fulfillment of the most ignoble kind that soaks the fantasies of teenage testosterone, statuesque and foul, necessary and brief, a pool of boy gathered at the feet of the jezebel, the paragon of Chloe, monument to smut. The air started to fester, and I retreated from the cloud. Sure that I was unseen by a soul, I found my chariot home, and pedaled.


My cycle home was uneventful but I was outside myself and looking not inward, just feeling as a gnat in a world of giants. Had the universe surrendered to a paradigm shift? Had objective reality from just one week ago shifted on an epochal scale? Or had nothing changed, except me? Was I but a trifle, forgotten in a breath? Had I really ceased to exist? Had I somehow willed this? Did no one care? I tortured myself at the pettiness of these thoughts until I demanded that I value them, and then I called myself stupid for doing so, and wished for a rabbit hole. But soon I was home anyway, so I parked the bike in the garage and went to sit in the dark living room, where I tried to empty my brain as I waited for Chloe’s return.