The next day, Maisie and I somberly take care of a few last minute things, and then when evening comes, we head over to Ms. Josephine’s.
I finally get to see the room Ms. Josephine hinted to before, and honestly, it’s still not what I expected.
Maisie still doesn’t agree with this, but we couldn’t come up with any other solid options during our fleeting last night together. So here we are.
There’s murals on the wall, between framed pictures of saints. There’s shelves of beautiful bottles, and herbs, and candles of every color, and things I can’t even guess.
There’s statues everywhere, of every size. On tables, shelves, and sitting directly on the floor, draped with dried flowers and beads.
There are flags and banners, dried herbs and bottles hanging from the ceiling. The room looks more like some kitschy second-hand store than a Vodou temple, but this is where it would happen.
This is where I would die.
Sunlight beaming brightly in from the windows, we follow Ms. Josephine’s brisk directions to get things ready while she draws an intricate design on the floor with what looks like cornmeal.
Maisie sets out a ring of candles while I change into a loose white linen shirt and pants. Ms. Josephine is dressed all in white too.
Maisie, on the other hand, is dressed all in black, like she’s already mourning me.
I suppose she is.
However, Ms. Josephine takes her aside and has her change into white too. Does that mean something? I suppose it must.
When everything is done, the room actually looks…pretty. It’s not a bad place to die.
“It sure beats a dark hole in the ground,” I joke, and I can say that from experience. No one laughs, but Ms. Josephine gives me a small sympathetic smile.
“You lay here,” she says, motioning to the space inside the ring of candles. “Maisie, you can sit beside him. We will pray, and then I will begin.”
I lay down on the hard floor, rolling waves of nerves in my stomach. Maisie kneels beside me and takes my hands in her warm ones. She looks like a mourning angel with the evening light from the sunny window highlighting her hair, and the reason we’re here darkening her eyes.
Ms. Josephine bends down to light the candles, a long BBQ lighter in her hands.
She lights it, but it blows out as soon as she stands. Again, she lights it. But it blows out immediately a second time.
She’s lighting it a third time when she suddenly stops and stands, staring at the door expectantly.
I turn my head just in time to see it open, three men standing in the hallway.
The giant men enter the room first, with the thinner, well-dressed man following.
“Bonswa, se’.” He tips his hat to Ms. Josephine.
Ms. Josephine pulls herself up to her full five feet and answers him in English. “I am not your sister.”
“Ou rejte frè ayisyen ou?”
“A common birth land does not make us family any more than a common ocean makes a shark and a tuna family.”
“And you are the tuna, no?” he asks, his smile all teeth and no warmth.
“I am the shark when it suits me.” She steps toward him and holds up a finger. “Pa fe’ dezo’d!”
“I will cause no trouble as long as you give me what I want. You have my word.” He gives her a shallow bow.
“And what is it you want, bokor?”
The man’s dark eyes shift to me. “An associate of mine recently notified me that Mwen mande pou zonbi a.”
Zonbi, the only word I recognize. He wants me. Why?
I study his face while Ms. Josephine continues to speak to him.
It takes me a minute to recognize him without the skull face paint.
It’s the man who ordered my death, and beside him, the two mountains of meat that caused it. Biff, the bastard, had gone to the lab people instead of the police. And now, knowing that this man was also a bokor, I realize what kind of danger we’re all in.
I shove my wife behind me and keep my hand on her when she tries to see around me. They would have to get through me first, before they laid a finger on my wife or Ms. Josephine.
“You know him?” I ask Ms. Josephine.
“I only know him by his handiwork,” she says, looking meaningfully at me. She realizes who he is, too. “He is bokor,” She says, distaste in her voice. “A priest who has turned to selfishness and the dark arts. One who serves and is full of malevolent spirits.” She turns her head and spits on the floor.
“Oh come now,” he says in English, “Do we not both practice Vodou?”
“Yes, but you know I do not practice with the left hand of magic.”
I remember when she’d mentioned the right and left hand before. She was a good person, who used her powers for good. This guy? The shadows writhed at his feet, wishing they could get away. But they couldn’t, and neither could we.
Unless I went with him.
I remember what Ms. Josephine said about being trapped in someone else’s control, the horror in her eyes at being forced to do bad things. And I’m certain I would be forced to do bad things. After all, these two big brick walls on either side of the bokor had once beaten me to death at his order.
“My magic raised him. The zombie belongs to me.”
“Perhaps, but it is the proprietary toksins that allows him to rejuvenate. And those belong to my employer. He is very intent on having his property back. Transfer the soul to me, and I shall leave you, your home, and your friend—” His eyes shift to Maisie and then back to Ms. Josephine. “—intact.”
I can’t let that happen. I can’t let them have me, but I don’t know what we can do. They will hurt Ms. Josephine and Maisie to get to me if I don’t go with them. We have no hope.
Well, maybe just one hope. The idea pops in and I’m gripped by certainty. It has a kind of poetic justice, really. There is exactly one person who I trust with my soul, and that was my soul mate.
I turn around and grip my wife by her arms, the confrontation behind us fading into the background as I focus on her.
“Listen to me now. This is very important, and we don’t have much time.” I slip my wedding ring off, and she starts to protest as I press it into her palm. “Listen closely. Keep my ring, and when I let go, tell me to attack them. Tell me to kill them, Maisie.”
“Yes. Say it just like that, you have to. And don’t tell me to stop until you know you’re safe. And if I try to hurt you or Ms. Josephine, you tell me to stop. Insist. And then do what we came to do, okay? Understand?”
Her eyes fill with tears and I know she understands exactly what I’m doing, exactly what this means. I touch my forehead to hers, eyes closed. “I love you more than life itself.”
“I love you, too.”
I kiss her tear-dampened lips, her forehead. “Now, Maisie. Do it.”
And then I step back and relinquish her hand, my ring, and the control of my soul.
Grady’s eyes go dull and red, and despite the danger all around us, I hesitate. I don’t want to do this, and I don’t want him to do this, and I don’t want to watch, and—
One of the henchmen steps toward me, murder in his eyes, and in a panic, I blurt, “Grady, keep him away from us!”
And with a snarl, he turns and blocks him.
But the other man is at least a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier, and he shoves Grady hard out of the way.
Grady stumbles, but then gets back up and blocks him again.
With a growl, the henchman shoves him again, harder this time, into a shelf of bottles. Grady and everything else to crashes to the ground.
The big guy and I both stare at the mess to see if he’ll get up again. He doesn’t, and I panic more as the killer draws a fat machete from his belt.
“Grady, get up. Please.”
The bottles rattle and I see him struggling to stand. Machete-man turns and crouches down, ready to hack at my husband. Who is just standing there among the bottles.
“Attack him!” I scream as the henchman lunges toward him, blade at the ready.
Faster than my eyes can follow his movements, Grady attacks the bigger man. The blade arcs down, and I can’t tell if he’s hit Grady or not, but now Grady is hanging on the bigger guy’s back, arms around his throat, snarling.
There’s gashes on his arms, oozing blood. So he did get hit. But now the blade is on the floor, the big guy using both hands to try to pry Grady off him. Grady isn’t letting go, and—oh, god—now he’s using his teeth to attack.
Ms. Josephine is holding off the other henchman with her spells and powders, but the skull-face guy with the cane still stands off to the side, watching the fights and whispering to himself.
Grady, even as strong as he is, isn’t having any luck bringing down the attacker, despite the wounds he’s given him. And if he can’t neutralize him, at some point, he’s going to get to me, and Ms. Josephine’s attacker is going to get to her, and it’s all going to be over.
Heart dropping, I change give my husband a new command. “Kill him,” I whisper. But he hears me. Somehow, through the link in the ring, he receives the command.
And with a great heave, he twists the head of the attacker in his arms until it cracks. The henchman crumbles, and Grady follows him down to the floor, mouth at the bloody wounds at the shoulder and neck.
My stomach turns itself inside out and I retch.
But inexplicably, head turned at an awkward angle, he struggles to rise from the floor again.
Oh. My. God.
“Maisie!” I turn to Ms. Josephine at her yell. I glance where she’s pointing, and the skull-faced man is standing there fondling the little dolls hanging from his belt. “They are zombie!”
With a gasp, I understand. They’re reanimated, similar to Grady, and the dolls are what they’re souls are tied to, and how the bokor is controlling them.
I point to him and command Grady. “Get the dolls off his belt and get them to Ms. Josephine!”
Flesh hanging from his mouth, Grady follows my finger. With a growl, he springs toward the bokor.
Frantically whispering and fingering the dolls, the skull-faced man backs toward the doorway. The henchman Grady attacked is still trying to get up from the floor, almost comically, but the henchman attacking Ms. Josephine turns from her and toward Grady, and snags him just in time to stop him from reaching the bokor.
Ms. Josephine runs to him, struggles with him, trying to reach the belt. But then the bokor has his hands around her neck, and he’s squeezing, and I’m just standing here useless and afraid.
The henchman with the broken neck is up on his feet and looking in circles for his machete, but I see it first, and without taking the time to think about it, I run across the room to Grady, only pausing long enough to pick the knife up off the floor.
The air above me shifts as the henchman swipes for me but I keep running, ring gripped in one hand and knife in the other. As I pass Grady, I hold the one out and yell, “Take the knife! Take it and attack them!”
He takes it from my hand and I hear something heavy hit the floor behind, but I keep moving. I don’t know if this will work, but—
I charge into the bokor and Ms. Josephine, toppling them both. The two of them wrestle there on the floor, but I grab the loop of rope the little dolls and charms are hanging from and yank, hard. It comes off in my hands, and I scramble backwards away from them.
I have it now, but what on earth do I do with it?
“Stop!” I scream.
I didn’t think it would work, but both henchmen stop moving. Grady stops moving. Even the bokor stops grappling with Ms. Josephine, looking at me with angry surprise that I snagged his belt of little dolls.
But I have no idea what to do with them, and glance at Ms. Josephine in desperation. She holds her hand out as she steps away from the skull-faced man, straightening her white dress, now torn and dirty.
I place them in her hand and back away, fist gripping the ring held to my chest where my heart thumps painfully fast and hard.
“You did good, Sister,” she says to me with a fierce smile, and holds the rope of charms up between her and the bokor. “Run while you still can,” Ms. Josephine tells him in English. Then, muttering words in Creole’, Ms. Josephine first rips one, and then the other big doll in half. The henchmen crumple to the floor, unmoving.
The bokor, his black and white make-up running with sweat, hisses and throws a vial at our feet. It explodes and the air is filled choking, sulfuric smoke, and I cough my lungs out as my eyes water. We’re all coughing and tearing for several minutes, and when the smoke clears…
The bokor is gone.
Ms. Josephine looks at the doorway where he must’ve escaped, and then stares at the remainder of the charms tied to the rope in her hand.
I walk over to her, glancing at the inert bodies at our feet. “Is it over?”
“This fight is.” She tips her head to look behind me at Grady.
I hesitantly turn to look at him, too. And he’s staring at me. And the look he’s giving me can only be described as hunger. Empty, insatiable hunger.
“I must do the spell, now.” Ms. Josephine hurries to the center of the room and begins righting and re-lighting the candles with rushed whispers.
He takes a step toward me.“Grady?” My voice cracks. He takes another, lip curling into a snarl.
He shuffles forward, growling, as if he doesn’t even hear me.
“Grady, stop. Stop walking towards me.”
His steps slow, but he doesn’t quite stop. He reaches out his clawed hands at me, and I just know he wants to rip my throat out.
“Put your hands down.”
He does, grudgingly, but he’s still baring his bloody teeth and snarling, still jerkily inching closer. He’s fighting me, fighting the commands, fighting the ring. The spell that had tied his soul to this ring was fading.
This wasn’t going to work.
I kick the blade on the ground as I back up a step, and I kneel slowly and pick it up, eyes never leaving his face.
“Grady. I command you to stop.”
He doesn’t stop. He shuffles closer, cornering me and cutting off my escape from the room.
I didn’t want to die at the hands of my husband. Not only because of self-preservation, but because I knew now that there was some kind of awareness after death. I knew Grady would realize what he’d done, and that it would hurt him for eternity.
Of course, self-preservation was definitely part of. I don’t want to die, to experience the pain of being torn apart by hands and teeth.
But nor did I want to kill him and end it all, end our love, this way.
“Grady, don’t hurt me.” My voice isn’t more than a strained whisper as I try to press myself between the atoms of the wall to escape him. “Please. I love you. You love me. Please don’t hurt me.”
I press my back against the wall and turn my head away from his gnashing teeth, clenching my eyes shut and squeezing the ring so hard with both hands that it cuts into my palm. Hot tears leak from my eyelids. And…
I swallow and open my eyes and turn my head toward him. His face is close enough to kiss, and he’s no longer snarling at me. He standing there, only an inch from me, hands limp at his sides.
I look into his eyes and see nothing. No hunger, no threat. But no Grady either.
Slowly, carefully, I reach down and slide the ring back on his finger.
“Come back to me,” I murmur, and lower a hand to my stomach. “Come back to us.”
He blinks a few times, long and slow, and I see his soul reenter his eyes a split second before he grabs me to his chest in a tight hug.
It takes a second for it to register that he is himself again, but then I go limp, hugging him back.
But with my head turned against his chest, my eyes fall on the corpses of the henchmen.
“What do we do about the bodies?” I ask blankly, unable to look away.
“Nothing.” Ms. Jospehine produces a pouch of powder, and sprinkles it on the corpse nearest to her while saying a few words in Creole’.
The corpse, the head that belonged to it, and all the blood that had drained out on the floor…all of it turns to dark gray dust.
Then she walks to the other, and does the same thing. Soon there are two piles of dust, small enough to clean up with a broom and a dustpan in just a few minutes.
All the horror and carnage of the fight, turned into a ten-minute household chore.
I hadn’t thought about it before now, but that’s probably what she would do with Grady’s body when the time came. But…
“I didn’t bring anything to put him in.”
A surprise sob/laugh bursts out of my mouth, and I cover it with one hand, because I sound hysterical even to my own ears.
Ms. Josephine and Grady both approach me and wrap me in their arms, but another sob bubbles up. And now that they’re coming, I can’t seem to make them stop.
Ms. Josephine rubs her hand back and forth across my back. “It’s okay, you do not worry about that.” Then she looks at Grady. “It’s just the shock and adrenaline wearing off.”
Just the shock? No, it wasn’t. It was just the fact that I watched my husband turn into a zombie and attack two men. They had been zombies too, but still, I hadn’t known it at the time. And it was just that he’d almost killed me, too, in his zombie state. And it was just that the worst was still to come—
He was still here to die.