(CW: Contains blood, filth, and murder)
Waking up with a pounding headache, mouth full of sand, and dressed up in a frilly pink dress, it seemed only natural for a girl to think about her life choices.
I was certainly thinking about mine, all my mistakes and missteps, lost opportunities, murders. But mostly I was thinking of all the promises I’d made to myself that had fallen by the wayside. Things like don’t speak until you have something important to say, and do unto others, etcetera. But more importantly, if you have to die, try not to wake up in a creepy basement.
I spat out sand, gagging, dry heaving off the side of the bed I was lying on.
There was tinny, old-timey music, muffled, as if coming from another room. I couldn’t quite make it out. My legs were cold and there was an aching pain coming from my toes.
What the fuck?
I blinked, trying to get my bearings, and my eyes felt strangely heavy, my face tacky like someone had slathered me in plaster. The light was tinged pink, and I was pretty sure I was hallucinating because what I was seeing couldn’t possibly be real.
I was lying on a small bed in a little girl’s room. There were teddy bears, pictures ripped from magazines of flowers pasted to the wall, and a dirty dollhouse at the end of the bed. A lamp with a red scarf draped over the bulb was in the corner, which explained the pink light. But even the room wasn’t real. I could smell gasoline and the distinct smell of earth, as if we were in a root cellar. I looked down at my legs, and that’s when I started to understand.
My feet had been crammed into a pair of shining patent leather shoes with pink bows on top. They were at least three sizes too small for my feet. I touched the clothes I was wearing, my stomach turning.
“Oh, fuck no,” I rasped, my throat dry and sore.
The frilly dress, clearly made for a child, was pink and white, covered in hearts and satin ribbon bows. The sleeves were puffy and brushed against my face. I sat up too quickly and almost fell back again.
I heard voices somewhere far-off, drowning out the music. I ripped off the shoes, wiggling my toes and getting the feeling back in my feet. Then I stood on the thin, sticky carpet, feeling the distinct texture of bare dirt underneath.
I did know one thing, a single thing about how I had ended up in a fake child’s room in a shitty basement, apparently dressed like a doll.
I died. Again.
It usually took about three days to wake up, less when I’d had help. I tried to remember where I’d gone this time. I remembered finding one of Lilith’s children – monsters slithering into the world through a series of cracks in reality, and which only I could drag back where they came from, a place called the Shade, another world partitioned off from our own by the gods, and where all the dark things of the earth were imprisoned.
The gods, in their defense, thought this was the right thing to do at the time. And Lilith, the oldest woman in the world, considered this an act of treachery, and went up against them, hopping bodies the way most people changed their clothes.
The Shade was a dark and eerie place, and where I often went when I died. I alone seemed to have the ability to pass through the worlds, but it came with side effects. Death, for one. I’d been told I didn’t necessarily have to die, but so far I hadn’t really found a workaround. All things considered, I was fairly new to the whole immortal thing. But life hadn’t really slowed down since waking up nearly a year ago on a morgue slab.
So I died, and woke up in a basement dressed like a little girl. Not creepy at all.
The voices – three or four of them, by the sounds of it – rose in pitch, arguing as I made my way to the door, fighting the nausea that always came when I woke up. I wiped at my eyes and felt something come off. I looked at my hand to see a false eyelash, sitting on my skin like an insect. I wiped it on my dress and wiped at my other eye, pulling eyelashes off, the glue crackling, my hands covered in makeup.
The anger welling up in my gut intensified and spread out through my limbs. Not only had I been dressed up like a doll, but whatever sick fuck did this made me up to look like something porcelain and unreal.
I flung open the door and stepped into a pitch-black cellar, the packed earth cool on my bare feet. I could feel life underneath me: insects and worms and burrowing things. But I started when an explosion shook the structure above me, rattling dust and plaster into my hair. And then the voices went silent, the house still but for the creaking of boards above and the droning of an old record which, I realized, was playing just to my left.
I felt for the player and, pulling the needle away with a shrieking scratch, I picked up the record and smashed it on the table where it had been playing.
Then I slowly made my way across the floor, my short skirt flouncing around my upper thighs, and found the stairs. The house had gone deadly still, not even the boards creaking now.
Had they heard me? Were they afraid? I fucking hoped so.
I put my hand on the doorknob and felt the distinctive click of a deadbolt sliding home and I smiled. I put my ear to the door, feeling the darkness inside of me welling up. I could hear rasping breath from the other side. A voice was whispering, and then I heard someone I recognized.
“You stupid motherfuckers have no idea what you’ve done.”
I narrowed my eyes at the door in front of me, feeling the rage taking over. Then I let it all go, bursting the flimsy wood into a million pieces, all flying outward, casting the breather on the other side of the door against the far wall.
I stood in the doorway, taking in the scene before me, bleeding black into the world through my eyes and fingers, and leaving shining ebony footprints through my bare feet as I stepped into the bright orange kitchen.
A fat man in overalls was praying over a rosary, a string of drool falling from his loose lips. The man who had sailed across the room was crumpled in a ball in the corner, moaning and holding his head. All over the room, stuck at odd angles on the wall, sitting on the counters, even a few crudely painted on the cheap linoleum floor, were crucifixes. I stepped right into the middle of one, scanning the room, finding Dekker smiling uncertainly from the chair where he’d been tied. His shirt was soaked in blood and his eyes looked hazy, as if he were about to pass out.
“Hey, Frankie,” he said weakly, nodding sheepishly to his wound. “I tried to save you.”
“I don’t need saving,” I said and turned to the man praying.
I reached down and pulled the rosary out of his hands. He looked up at me, terror in his eyes. His lips were still moving in prayer. I bent low to hear.
“...the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of life, unfathomable divine mercy--”
“Do you think God’s going to save you?” I whispered.
He started, his breath coming fast, and after a moment nodded, chin shining with saliva.
“Father Sheldon says it’s so.” He looked over at the man against the wall, his face dripping with blood from a cut on his head. Father Sheldon, as the man had called him, was trying to stand but kept falling backward.
“How do you know I haven’t been sent by God?” I said. “You saw me, didn’t you? I was dead.”
He nodded again, confusion in his eyes. “You don’t look like an angel.”
“What’s your name?”
“Billy,” I repeated. “Did you dress me up like this?”
He shook his head vehemently, like a child. “No, no, no. Father Sheldon always does the dressing. He says it’s too holy, my hands would corrupt them.”
“Them?” I said. “He does this often?”
“We go to the hospital,” he said, blinking guiltlessly at me. “We get a girl and we make her innocent again. It’s God’s work.” He frowned and looked up at me, sorrow filling up his eyes. “Isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “Do you know the Bible?”
He nodded quickly. “I write my verses every day, every day.”
“I did that, too,” I said. “My mother was evil, but she said she was holy, just like Father Sheldon. Do you know Leviticus?”
He nodded, and there were tears in his eyes.
“He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother.“ I put a hand to his cheek, wiping away his tears, ignoring the fact that Father Sheldon had apparently painted my fingernails a garish shade of pink, already dirty and peeling away.
“I didn’t know,” Billy said, sobbing. “I’m sorry, angel. Please, have mercy on me.”
This poor man had been manipulated by Sheldon, convinced he was doing something good, something righteous. It made me sick to my stomach. I couldn’t help but think about my mother, before she was possessed, the way she had me convinced that I was wicked, unredeemable except through her abusive measures. The old-time religion never quite took with me, and I resented her every step of the way.
I could keep Billy from an even more sinister fate now, though, and maybe, in time, he would be all right.
I bent low to Billy’s ear and whispered. “I forgive you.”
Billy doubled over with sobs that racked his large body. I looked over at Father Sheldon, who was frozen, staring at me, realizing I wasn’t dead, had come back like Lazarus, risen from his tomb. And he’d dressed old Lazarus like a sex doll.
For a man of God, Father Sheldon had a funny way of showing how pious he was. I smiled and I saw a stain spreading across the good priest’s crotch as he wet himself.
“Billy,” I said, “do you have somewhere to go?”
“I can go to Mama’s house,” Billy said. “She loves me. She says I pray too much, though, and Father Sheldon said she was wicked.”
“Father Sheldon is the wicked one,” I said, and smiled down at him, as kindly as I could manage. Billy was innocent, I wasn’t going to hurt him. “Go, Billy. To your mother who loves you. You’re lucky you have a family like that.”
Billy nodded, glancing at Father Sheldon before clumsily getting to his feet and running out of the room. I heard a door slam and then it was just Father Sheldon, Dekker, and me.
I walked over to Dekker, not taking my eyes off the old priest.
I felt Dekker’s eyes. “I’ve been better. But I’ve been worse.”
“Don’t die for a minute, okay?” There was a gun on the floor by Dekker’s chair and I picked it up, untied his hands from the shoddy knot that held him to the chair, and handed him the gun. “This won’t take long.”
Then I walked toward the old man on the floor, smelling strongly of blood and piss, and something else it took me a moment to process. Fear.
I strode across the room, grabbing a metal crucifix from the counter on my way past, its edges sharp and unforgiving, and held it out in front of me like a knife. Father Sheldon stared at it, seeming afraid to look at my face. He was whispering a prayer under his breath and I smiled.
“God isn’t going to save you, old man,” I said. “It goes one of two ways with people like you. Either you get yourself killed, or you keep doing what you’re doing until it isn’t enough. You get tired of the dead bodies, and eventually you decide you need a living girl.”
“No,” the Father whispered, the white of his collar shining in the glaring bare bulb of the kitchen. “I don’t hurt anyone, I swear. I’m a holy man, I would never harm a living being.”
“What do you call what you’ve done to Billy?”
“He didn’t do anything he didn’t wish to,” he protested.
“And, come to think of it, what do you do with the bodies?”
“What?” he said, surprised.
I raised an eyebrow. “You make them up, you put little girl clothes on their naked bodies, you paint their nails, you fill their mouths with sand. That’s a new one for me. And then what? Do you anoint them with holy oil before you fuck them?”
“No,” he gasped, as if I were physically hurting him. “I don’t...I never...”
“Do you give the bodies back to the families so they can mourn their daughters?” I said. “Their wives, their mothers, their friends? Do you give those grieving families closure, Sheldon? Or do you have your way and then bury them in the basement?”
“No,” He put his bloody face in his hands and began to cry. “Stop it.”
“I can feel your disgusting fingers all over me,” I said, my voice now a growl. “Did you do something to me? Did you touch me?”
“Of course not!” he howled. “I’m a good man, a holy man, I would never touch a living girl.”
“A living girl,” I said. “But if I stayed dead, it would be okay.”
“Yes,“ he blurted, his eyes widening. “I didn’t touch you, I swear. I didn’t even look when I changed you. I’m not dirty, I’m simply a man.”
”A holy man,“ I said, repeating his words back to him.
He shook his head, his expression reminding me of a lost child, alone, keenly aware of the danger he was in. I leaned in, as I’d done with Billy.
“There’s another Bible verse that you might recognize,” I said. “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
I narrowed my eyes at Father Sheldon, who sought out Dekker behind me.
“Don’t look at me, asshole,” Dekker said, disgust in his voice. “If it were up to me you’d be dead already. She likes to have a chat.”
“Did you hear the trumpet sound, Sheldon?” I said, watching him intently. “Did you feel changed when you saw I’d risen from the dead? I bet you did.”
He nodded, locked into my eyes.
“Did you feel changed enough to stop fucking dead bodies?”
His face fell, his shoulders slumping. Tears slopped down his cheeks, making a clean trail down his face through the blood.
“I wasn’t going to hurt anyone,” he whispered.
“You shot my boyfriend,” I said, “and you may have ruined Billy’s life forever.”
“You’re no angel.”
I laughed, and he winced.
“Of course not,” I said, my voice going deadly calm. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t like a bit of retribution.”
I shoved the pointed edge of the crucifix into his neck, straight into the jugular, and Sheldon’s eyes popped open wide as blood spurted in bursts onto the linoleum floor, to the tune of his beating heart. He grasped the crucifix, covered in his own blood, and I let him have it. He covered the wound in his neck with his hand, staring at the cheap metal replica of a crucified Jesus.
“Jesus didn’t die so you could go around having sex with corpses,” I said. “But good luck with St. Peter.”
I stood, turning to Dekker, my heart hammering in my chest. He was watching me, relieved, bleeding but alive, and he actually smiled.
“Feel better?” he said.
“I’m satisfied, if that’s what you mean,” I said. “Are you going to die on me?”
“Not this time.”
“I’m going to need some clothes,” I said, “because I am not walking out of here like this.”
“It’s not a great look,” Dekker said. “I got your stuff from the morgue, it’s out in the car. Frankie, are you okay? I mean, did he…?”
“No,” I said. “I would have made it much more painful if he had.”
I looked over as Sheldon fell over onto his side, eyes unseeing, lying in a puddle of his own blood. “I know he didn’t kill anyone, not yet, but I don’t feel bad about it. Is that wrong, do you think?”
“Did you call me your boyfriend just then?”
“Glad to see you have your priorities straight, Romeo.”
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