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.