There was much debate in medical, and most religious communities, on whether the zombie came back body and soul or not. Not that he could prove it, because you couldn’t prove a soul existed in the first place, but Murphy knew the truth, that both people before him were whole and real, awake in the slow rotting of their former flesh.
Zombies, while not alive, were ensouled, which was the true horror of their situation.
“Now that I’ve got your attention,” Murphy said softly, his voice taking on the deep, even tone he used in rituals as well. “Who do I have the honor of talking with?”
The man’s mouth opened, but only a piercing shriek came from within. Murphy flinched. The cops cursed and threw their hands over their ears.
“Now, now,” Murphy said as one hand pulled a burnt-colored metal flask from his pocket. “I have rum, mange sec, for anyone who wants to play nice.”
The woman stood, trying to watch Murphy and her companion at once. The man teetered, then took a few halting steps toward the bars. He fell onto the flask that Murphy held out, a crashing man desperate for a hit. Murphy let some of the liquid slip from the flask. A thick, dry tongue darted from the man’s mouth and licked at the stream trickling from Murphy’s hand. When Murphy pulled back, the zombie fell to the floor and lapped up what he could.
Then he stood again, licking his fingers until some of the flesh came free. Murphy refused to look away, mostly because there was look of defiance in the zombie’s eyes. It wasn’t just his own soul in residence, and one never looked away from a lwa ge-rouge when they had their attention.
“Who are you?” Murphy asked again.
The voice gurgled and spilled forth, still painfully shrill, but bringing real words with it this time. “I am your death, bastard flesh bag.”
With his left hand Murphy flung a small handful of grave dirt from his other pocket onto the body. It wouldn’t sever the bond between the body and spirits, but it served to remind them that they were a guest in a corpse and easily sent back from where they’d come. The zombie stumbled and responded with just a glare.
“Again, I ask for your name,” Murphy demanded, lower and more commanding with a touch of his own power behind the words.
“I am Ghede La Croix, Baron of Death.”
“You lie,” Murphy snapped. His audience forgotten, he gathered his power around him, allowing it to flare and snap at the spirit who meant to imply he was Baron Samedi himself. Murphy had, upon occasion, dealt directly with The Baron, and knew this imposter to be a very poor imitation.
The zombie let out a shaky shriek and fell to the floor. Idly, Murphy wondered how a zombie groveling before him would look to those who would later watch the tape. It babbled in a language long lost to human ears even before the African diaspora began.
“Why do you claim to be what you are not?”
“We are scared,” the zombie squealed. “We are lost. Fre denye, we are abandoned.”
A chill wormed its way through Murphy. His fists clenched automatically. With a deep breath he forced himself not to betray how disturbed the lwa’s words left him. This was most definitely not a matter to be recorded by the human police.
“Be blessed, my brother,” Murphy said. He raised his right arm, where a bracelet of black, navy and red threads interwoven around raven bones waited for his touch of power. To the Ghede, he knew, he appeared fearsome, indeed, with his birth power sparking darkly across his skin and flaring behind him, reminiscent of the wings of the psychopomp he bore. “Take him home,” he whispered to the psychopomp.
The carriers of the dead took many forms. Black dogs, jackals, vultures, owls and even cats all traditionally could stand in as a pictorial representations of the spirits who saw the dead safely to Guinee. Murphy preferred ravens, simply because they were more common, and their fetters were easier to conceal in a normal appearance.
The psychopomp burst from the talisman. In truth it looked little like the bird. Perhaps if a particularly enthusiastic three-year-old (and a morbid one to boot) colored a version of a raven he might get it closer. The cops, thankfully, could see nothing. To them the corpse just felt empty after putting up a creepy fight.
Murphy looked to the woman. The whites of her eyes showed. If she had the fluid, she would have been crying.
“Peace child,” Murphy bade. While he could lay more than one zombie at a time, he’d only brought the one psychopomp, so the girl would have to wait until it returned to depart herself. “Do you have a name?”
She gagged over an attempt to speak. It was then that Murphy noticed the deep rent in her neck where she’d been chained. She was in considerably worse shape. At last she opened her mouth wide and gestured within. Obviously she looked wrong, but the motion confirmed that through rot or cruelty her tongue had been removed.
“Can you write?”
Too vigorously she nodded. Things that shouldn’t have flopped and flapped against her visage.
“Paper, pencil,” Murphy asked of the cops, standing in a stunned silence behind him. The one Murphy didn’t know faltered, then produced a legal pad and pen from the desk. Murphy passed it on.
“Mira Grint,” he read aloud for the camera. “And the man?”
Again she wrote and held the pad up.
“Brian Kean,” Murphy read again.
“Do you know who did this to you?”
She shook her head again.
“Woke up in a graveyard. Tall man, dirty blonde, white skin. Snake tattoo. Second man, white, tall, not as tall as you, shaved head, took me to garage & chained me there. I couldn’t say no. Couldn’t fight back.”
The last words were underlined.
Broard cleared his throat. “It’s okay, sweetie. We know.”
Murphy and Broard both knew that sometimes the dead didn’t know they’d ever died. At her level of decay, though, she had to know.
“Do you know their names?” Broard asked.
The zombie, Mira, clearly shook her head.
“Any details you can give us would help a lot. Is there anything else you remember?”
If Broard was uncomfortable interviewing a dead woman about crimes committed against her he didn’t let it show.
“Dogs,” she wrote, pointing emphatically with the pencil to the word. “They fought dogs. Took me there once. Threatened with giving me to the dogs.”
“That probably means the one who held her wasn’t a keeper,” Broard said, looking to Murphy for confirmation.
The woman nodded. “Voice held no compulsion.”
“Anything else, sweetie? Names? Addresses?”
Not that any of them would help, Murphy knew. People like that were ghosts, moving at the first sign of a police presence.
After a moment the woman wrote four words on their own page.
“Don’t want to die,” Broard read.
It was a point where both men would usually swear under their breath. But with the woman standing there, waiting for their reaction under a fringe of her own hair it felt wrong.
“Unlock the door,” Murphy said. Broard did as he asked without a word.
Murphy stepped inside, skirting the still body of the man. He sat on the bench and motioned for the woman to join him. Reluctantly she did.
“Doesn’t she know she’s already dead,” the uniform asked, barely bothering to whisper. Broard glared at him hard enough that the uniform took a step back.
“Lay down,” Murphy said to the zombie. She couldn’t have fought anyway, but she looked resolved to not even try. She stretched out on the bench, laying her head in Murphy’s lap. There was no good way to go about this, with her skin peeling from dryness in spots and soft with rot in others. Dark runners of blood ran through the white of her eyes and she looked up at him. “If you remember nothing else, remember that it will be all right. You are not passing into darkness, but are at last traveling home.”
Because it seemed proper, Murphy began singing softly. He didn’t have the range of a true talent, but his voice, deep and rumbling, was serviceable enough for a hymn. “You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst. You shall wander far in safety, though you do not know the way…”
Broard watched Murphy, transfixed, surprise in his eyes. The uniform gaped and crossed himself.
As Murphy sang he silently called the pyschopomp, a lesser spirit devotee to Papa Legba, the lwa who guarded gateways and made passage possible between the earthly realm the Guinee. Murphy used his long, dark fingers to stroke Mira’s face until she calmed in his arms. When she closed her eyes under his touch Murphy released the raven. Mira stiffened only
slightly, then she was gone, body left empty while Murphy’s voice belted out the last lines of the hymn.
The room stayed still for a few long moments, a feat since the cells were far from empty.
“Call for someone to bring in a pair of gurneys and get these two taken over to the university morgue,” Broard commanded. Murphy slipped back out the cell, letting the metal clang against itself as he left. “Let’s go get you some coffee, Murphy. That was a hell of a performance.”
One of the men in the other holding cell whooped and began clapping. His face was red with intoxication and the effort alone of clapping threatened to spill him onto the floor in a drunken heap. Murphy’s face heated as he tried to turn away.
Broard clapped a hand on Murphy’s back and urged him toward the back door. They escaped up a back stair to Broard’s office on the significantly less pretty second floor. As they walked Murphy tried to hide the shaking he felt in his bones.
Again from “Some of the time/Often/Always”:
“I spend a lot of time encouraging people to explore why they do the things they do. Some never can admit the baggage they carry with them. You are miles ahead.”
Baggage, she says, like I’m a harried, excited tourist rushing to a grand destination. This isn’t sparkly leopard print flight totes on little wheels. This is chains whose ends I can’t see, whose thickness swells and bleeds out constricting around an through me until at times I can barely walk, barely breathe.
I need help.
“We are going to help you,” Dr. Parrish says, almost as soon as I think it.
That we is a fearful thing. Cliched, my skeptical brain wants to dismiss it and therefore every other thing that comes from Dr. Parrish’s mouth. But my heart wants to absorb it, wants to believe. I can be a we again. Wants to believe this small, solid box of a woman, behind her PhDs and cloak of professionalism really does understand.
So I box my heart up in steel, just in case but leave air holes and no lock on the door. That’s a thing called Hope.
From my WIP “Sometimes/Often/Always”:
It’s easy to forger that not all abuse is physical. The black eye, the bruised ear, the split lip, even when legitimately come across; it raises the eyebrows and people, remembering crime scene photos of the victims, can’t help but wonder.
But where are the bruises that words leave? Where are the cuts left when a family member threatens to shoot you? Where are the breaks and split skin from systematically undermining your value as a human—for years?
We don’t literally wear our hearts on our sleeves so the world can see how scarred our pasts have left us. Sometimes, often, I wish all damage translated to the physical. That each word corresponded to a blow so that we could look and not deny the damage we do to each other.
Screaming should split ears. Threat of violence should beget violence. Insults should lacerate skin.
Not just so those who hurt see their rage in ribbons of blood on other people. But also so that we can stand at a mirror, probing battered flesh, and know for sure when we are victims. For healing can never begin as long as we keep lying to ourselves.
I leave that last part out, but the rest of the words spill out and tumble like dangerous puppies at the woman sitting behind the desk in a cheerfully lit, sparse little office so unlike a psychiatrist’s. I have a lot of practice talking about my past, my childhood, teen and young adult years. The present is far more dangerous. I’m more attached to my present.
The real threat of poverty isn’t when people tell you you don’t deserve food, help or even basic human respect. It’s when you start to believe them.
Several years ago, during Mister’s 6th grade year one of the reasons a Lit teacher gave for him being incapable of functioning at a “normal” level was that they read a book about a boy being bullied and in the book the bully “left something in his locker to get him in big trouble.” When asked to write a short essay on what might have been in the locker Mister wrote that it was a watermelon and it was bad because it was messy and sticky and brought ants. The teacher insisted that this was a completely wrong answer because clearly the obvious answer was a weapon of some kind, and Mister’s inability to reach this conclusion was typical of how he was unable to understand things. Personally I thought a watermelon was a fantastic answer, with some really rational reasoning behind it. It also reflected Mister’s complete lack of knowledge of school violence and showed that he was completely unable to imagine anyone would do something as horrible as take a gun to school. But this teacher was pretty upset that Mister didn’t “get it”. I couldn’t stop thinking of that conversation with the teacher as I watched this:
I mean, what does it say when the autistic kid you are trying to say is incapable of being a “real human” is more moral, more creative, more compassionate, and in at least one way MORE INTELLIGENT than you?
…is now available with English subtitles! I am ridiculously excited about this!
This is exactly why. This stupid, mean, blind rant about this blog wondering why we (authors) have to pick sides in the Hatchett-Amazon, or in a larger view in the self-published vs not-self-published wars. Why the hell do we even need to make anything a war? What exactly does it bring to the table in the flavor of bettering publishing to behave in such nasty, close-minded cultish ways.
Yeah, I have some stuff published on Amazon. They pay me regularly and enable my publisher to sell my books to a wider audience. They still do a lot of things I don’t agree with. They still play some nasty games trying to strong arm publishers out of every cent, right and hair they have.
And yeah, all the big publishers certainly have their dirty tricks skewing the numbers in their favor which made a hole Amazon exploited that became profitable self publishing. The big publishers are not innocent and instead of doing the logical thing (which I said they should have done years and years ago, before Kindle and self publishing hit big, or in the case of the Kindle were even out, which is come together and make their own site for the purpose of selling books and ebooks) they tried to out dirty Amazon with setting ebook prices etc.
These stupid games are why you have to diversify as an author. Don’t let all your products get caught up in one side. You can only trust any corporate entity to a certain extent and that can change as any moment, so have a damn back up plan or be prepared to deal with some damage. (Dorchester, anyone?)
And on the writer side there’s the increasing pressure to pick a side. To become a nauseating sycophant for “small press” or “ebooks” or “indie” or “legacy” or what the fuck ever.
I don’t care anymore. I don’t care about what blogs you read or comment on, or even what genre you write. I want good books. I want to make good books. I want to read good books. I want to be able to afford the books and find them when I want them. I want them to be mine once I pay for them, to give away, keep, throw away, whatever. I want to be respected as a reader and offered the best possible story and presentation that the publisher/author partnership is capable of. I want to make sure you, my reader, get the same from me and I only pursue publishers I think will offer us both that.
Anything else is distraction. And I have more than enough already taking me away from writing. I already have to face everything from heartworm positive dogs dumped on my doorstep, and kids, a partner who is laid off, a house that is over 100 years old and needs help to the day to day grind of working in a medical field with a fairly high burn out rate.
I don’t need these little bits of drama. I need words.
So instead of being on here ranting or “fisking” I sit down to console my dogs that are still shivering from fireworks still going off (yes, at 1:30 am.) I read. I struggle to get my words in by the week, or get those submissions out when rejections roll in. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t have enough spoons to get it done. I almost never get everything I want to do in a day done.
But if I’m going to waste time, it’s going to be playing Pokemon, or a stupid little Facebook game, or napping, not screaming on the internet about how someone is wrong.
Except for this post, because it’s 1:30 in the morning and the dogs are keeping me up by being scared of the fireworks.
P.S. Happy 4th, y’all!