I’ve barely arrived back home when I hear Krissy’s car pull up in front of the house. Grady’s truck is still in the driveway beside my car, so there’s no place for her to park.
I smooth my hair as I walk to open the door for her at her knock. I give her a big smile and a hug around the rectangular dish she’s carrying. “Hi Krissy.”
“Hi,” she replies, smiling back with a strange look on her face as she looks me over.
I wave her inside. “I haven’t started the coffee yet. I’ll do that right now.”
I put the fragrant grounds in the filter as Krissy drifts to the table.
“You’re cooking again. That’s good.”
I turn around as I start the machine to see her standing there awkwardly with the casserole dish, looking at the table where my dirty plate and fork from lunch sat.
“Oh, sorry.” I grab the dishes and take them to the sink and then reach out for the pyrex in her hands. “Yeah. I’ve been cooking more recently, but only out of necessity. Here, let me take that.”
She sits as I open the fridge. But Grady’s plates are all over the place. I shut the door quickly, not wanting her to worry that I wasn’t eating. “You know what,” I saying, walk over to the stove, “We’ll have this for dinner.”
“I’m afraid I can’t stay that long.”
That’s when I catch my slip-up. She thought I meant her and I, not Grady and I. I’d have to be more careful.
“That’s okay,” I say. “I’ll freeze the leftovers.” I pop down into the chair across from her and give her a smile.
She tilts her head, staring. “You seem well.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
She blinks with surprise, and I realize I’ve done it again. As far as she knows, Grady is dead, and I’ve been a wraith for weeks. I take a deep breath and try to sober things up. I look down at my hands, wring them for good measure. “Yes, well. Today’s one of the good days.” I’d read those would come at some point.
She nods and relaxes, and I know she’s probably read the same grief books and articles I have. “I would never begrudge you a good day,” Krissy says, looking down, “but I confess that I’m a bit jealous.” Tears drift down her cheeks as she gives me a smile. “I haven’t had one of those yet,” she says, swiping at her eyes.
Oh god. The poor woman. I reach my hand out and grab hers. She clings to it silently.
To think, just a week ago I was worse than her in my grief. It truly was a miracle. One I desperately wanted to share with her, but I couldn’t.
I search for words. For weeks now, Krissy’s been the strong one, keeping me afloat with her support. But now I find myself in the odd position of being the comforter. For the death of a man I knew to be alive.
I said the only thing that I could think of. “Your brother loves you so much. He wouldn’t want to see you so sad.”
Damn him for keeping this from her.
She nods, swallowing hard. I pass her the box of tissues and she releases my hand as she dabs at her eyes. “Is that what helped you? To know that Grady wouldn’t want to see you torn up over him?”
“Sort of,” I hedged. Knowing he wouldn’t want me to be sad was no comfort at all before. I couldn’t help it, and that made me feel guilty, like I had let him down by being so depressed. Maybe it would have been comfort, in time. There were two reasons for my improved outlook, but I could only share one. I could tell her, right? It would be the perfect explanation for why I had suddenly found my will to live without my husband. And it might help her cheer up too. I didn’t want her to suffer so badly before we could reveal that Grady was actually alive. “And because… I’m pregnant.”
Her head pops up, red eyes wide. “You are?”
“Yes.” And I give her a little smile, because she’s smiling through her tears, and because it’s a relief to not be the only one who knows.
She squeals as she enfolds me in her arms and we hug, rocking back and forth. “I’m going to have a niece or nephew!”
For the first time the news makes my heart swell with actual joy, unshadowed by grief.
I hadn’t even had the chance to really think about it yet. We were going to be parents. Together. Grady and I are going to have a baby.
Her look of sympathy as she pulls back tells me I said that out loud, when I hadn’t meant to.
“Oh sweetheart,” she says, grabbing my hands. “He is with you in spirit, I know it. And he would be so happy.” She hugs me again.
He would be so happy, if I’d told him. “I know.” He will be so happy. I’m going to tell him soon. Maybe it would help him deal with everything. “But you can’t tell anyone else,” I caution as we pull apart. I don’t want her to let the cat out of the bag to Grady when she found out he was alive. Not until I’d had the chance to tell him myself.
“Of course.” She nods and blots her eyes. “How far along are you?”
I press my hands against my lower abdomen. “Only about two months.”
Krissy nods and her eyes fill with tears again. Her smile is painful, wavering into sorrow, as she reaches out and puts a hand over mine on my stomach. “I’m so glad we have a piece of him still.”
I squeeze her hands and then enfold her in another hug. “Just hang on. It’ll get better. I promise. Better days are coming soon.” I try to put all my conviction in those words. It would be better, soon. As soon as we could tell her Grady was alive, and where he’d been.
She nods against my shoulder and pulls back. “I have to go. You take care of yourself.”
I barely have time to say, “Bye,” as she leaves in a rush with no explanation.
My heart breaks more for her.
I’ve left every place I’ve been in the last 6 weeks in a rush just like that. It meant an ugly-cry breakdown was coming, and she didn’t want anyone to witness it.
Damn it, Grady.
Someone had kept the fact that my husband was alive from me for six weeks, and if I find out who…
I can’t keep doing this to his family. His mom and dad were suffering just as badly. Maybe more. He was their child. I love them too, and I can’t go on knowing they are going through horrible, completely unnecessary heartbreak and grief. And yet I can’t just tell them either, because it’s Grady’s choice.
Either way, if I tell them or don’t, someone is going to be angry. And maybe unforgiving.
I’ll pick up Grady and see what he says about his meeting with Ms. Josephine and then try, again, to convince him to tell them.
When I come back to myself, Ms. Josephine is eating soup across from me. She takes a bite, rolls it around in her mouth, and then salts it some more before her next bite.
I must have made a noise or something, because she looks up at me and smiles around another bite.
“Tell me, do you feel better?”
Dread wraps around my shoulders like a blanket, I look down at the plate. But it’s empty and clean, ish. The horror show I was expecting isn’t there, just some clean bones. Everything else seems fine, too.
I expel a sigh of relief. “Yes.” I do feel better. Sharper, not as foggy. Still slightly hungry, but not hollowed out with hunger pains.
“Good.” She stands and grabs my plate and takes it to the sink, and then returns to her seat across from me.
“You can have this back now.” She slides my wedding band from her apron pocket and sets it gently on the table beside me before returning to her seat.
I slide the ring back on my finger, flexing all of them. “How long was I…?”
She tilts her head to one side. “You don’t remember?”
I shake my head. “I black out sometimes.”
“About ten minutes.” She takes another bite of soup while staring at me. “And your eyes were red while you were eating.”
“Let me see your hands,” she asks, but I’m taken off-guard.
She repeats her request, holding out her own.
I hold them out to her and she grabs them, turns them over, and then looks up at me from under her lashes.
“Hmmm.” She drops my hands.
“What?” My hands look normal to me, if a little pale.
“You look better than you should. I did not expect you to be able to walk around in broad daylight.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your hands. They were broken when I found you. I assume the rest of you was in about the same condition. Most people, when raised, are raised in the same state they were in when they died.” She pulls back. “You are not. You look healthy. Can you tell me how that is?”
Arms out to my sides, I say, “Lady, I can’t tell you anything. I have no idea what’s going on here, and I can’t remember hardly anything from that night. That’s why I’m here.”
I look away from her and into the distance, my entire body aching with the ghost of the tremendous pain I’d felt in my flashback.
Meeting her eyes again, I ask, “Do you know who killed me?”
Miss Josephine shakes her head, eyes and mouth rueful. “I do not. I only arrived…after.”
I close my eyes, only just now realizing how much I’d been depending on her to answer that particular question. But I had more questions she might be more help on.
“What am I?”
“You are you, just undead,” she says matter-of-factly, tearing her bread and dipping a piece in the broth. “Caught between the world of the dead, and the world of the living. You are both, and neither.” She rises from her seat. “Stay here.”
I do, absorbing what she’s told me. She rustles around in the other room and then brings out a lamp with no shade and sets it on the table beside me. She plugs it and turns it on, the bare bulb casting long shadows in the kitchen.
“Come,” she says, summoning me. “Stand here. Please.”
I do, and she puts her hands on my shoulders to position me.
“Face the wall.”
I turn and look at the wall, and her shadow joins mine as she comes to stand next to me.
“Sometimes, in the late afternoon sunlight, the body casts more than one shadow. A darker core within a fainter shadow. Do you see?”
“Yes.” I did see, but I didn’t yet understand.
“The lighter shadow is your ti bon ange. People think of it as your aura, but it’s actually the Little Angel, part of your soul. The dark image is your gros bon ange, or Big Angel, the other part of your soul.
Gros bon ange, that is responsible for the functions of the body. And ti bon ange, the source of personality, character, emotion. Morality. Love.
When you died, your ti bon ange would not leave, would not move on. What I did for you, is to tie your body, your big soul, and your little soul back together before your big soul departed.”
“Why does mine look different?” In the yellow light from the lamp, our shadows have the two parts she described, but mine was lighter, bigger, wavery like heat shimmer on summer road.
“The ti bon ange has a more tenuous connection with the body, even under normal circumstances.” Her shadow gestures with her. “After resurrection, the bonds fray over time. When you wait too long to eat, gros bon ange takes over, weakens ti bon ange. Each time this happens, the bond is even weaker, and if it happens too much, your humanity will slowly fade until you are the mindless shell you would have been had I not raised you.”
I could already feel it fading away, my humanity. In those moments where my consciousness slipped into darkness and I couldn’t remember anything. And the things I did during those times… the blackout was probably a blessing.
“If your little soul breaks free from your body, from your ring, it wonders the world evermore—trapped, lost—while your body rampages, concerned only with hunger. Until it rots or the head is removed.” She makes a slicing motion across her neck, and any uncertainty I had is gone.
I’m a damn zombie.
“Only you can apparently heal, regenerate,” she continues. “So the danger would be much greater, and there would be only the one way to stop you. And who knows how much pain and grief you would wreak on the world before that happened.”
An insatiable zombie that could heal damage. It was the stuff of nightmares and Hollywood B-movies. And my life.
Ms. Josephine reaches over and turns off the lamp and sits back on her side. I take that as a sign that I should do the same.
“Tell me what you remember. Please.” She crosses her hands on the table and waits.
Trying to form words to describe the images in my head is frustrating as always. “I remember the sounds of the machines. I remember a bright light. I assume it’s the light I went back to turn off. I remember these red barrels with a black symbol on the side, and lots of warnings that I couldn’t read. I hear voices, see the shapes of people, but the only face I see is the bottom half of a skull. And I feel pain. Lots of pain, and fear, and regret. I remember feeling like I was being crushed, suffocated. And then I—I died.” It’s my first time saying it out loud. “I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. And then there was darkness, and yet I remember you singing.”
She’s silent a long minute until, expression thoughtful, she asks, “These barrels, do you remember anything else about them?”
I shake my head. “No. I remember the stuff in them was leaking out in places. It had a smell, a bad one.” I shrug. “That’s really about it.”
“Whatever was in those barrels must also be responsible for your state, your healing.” Almost to herself she says, “I would love to know exactly what was in them. That would be very useful information to have. Very useful indeed.”
“Some very useful information would be what happened to me. What you did to me.”
“Certainly,” she says, tipping her head. “I have a theory. Do you want to hear it?”
“Of course,” I say, leaning towards her.
She dabs her mouth with a napkin and sets it down before looking at me pointedly. “If I had not cast my spell, you would have risen anyway, from the chemicals in the barrels that you were buried with.”
I’m still trying to think of a reply when she continues.
“Raising a zonbi is serious business. It cannot be accomplished without strong poisons and even stronger magic. Only a very powerful se’vite’ who deals in Red magic, a bokor, can do this. It is very bad juju.”
Not all the words make sense to me, but I get the gist. “But… you raised me.”
“Yes, but—How to explain.” She shakes her head as she searches for words. “There are those who practice Vodou with the right hand of magic, like me—” She holds her right hand out, palm up. “—and those who practice with the left.” She holds her left hand out the same way. “Light and dark, you see? I practice only with the right hand.” she says, holding that hand out to me. “I do only the work the spirits and God himself requests of me.”
“My theory is that the barrels contained poisons that would have also raised you, had I not cast my spell. You would have risen, with nothing tying your soul, wandering the earth with insatiable hunger.”
“A zombie,” I murmur.
She nods. “Yes. Or worse, while your soul was vulnerable, it could have been stolen by whoever is responsible for the chemicals. You would be under someone else’s control.”
“That’s worse?” I half joke.
She doesn’t smile. Instead she sits back in her chair and stares at me. “In Haiti, the fear of zombies is not the same as in the westernized world. It is not the fear of being attacked by zombies, hurt by them, but rather of becoming one under someone else’s control.”
I digest that a minute, and then she continues, voice grave.
“Trapped, unable to escape, yet conscious and forced to do whatever the person who tied your soul commands. Anything at all, no matter how much it horrifies your soul. An eternal slave, you would do it and be aware of it and be unable to stop. It is an unspeakable horror. Stealing a soul…It is some of the darkest magic there is.”
She crosses herself before continuing. “When I resurrected you, I tied your soul to your wedding ring. Whoever holds the ring has control of you. I gave it back to you, so that you would have your own will, ownership of your own soul. As it should be.”
Alarm zings down my spine as I realize that was why she wanted my ring when I first came in. She controlled me while she fed me.
I feel inexplicably betrayed, and I kind of get it now, why being an eternal slave would be a nightmare.
She sees the expression on my face and nods. “I had to make sure that I was safe until, and while, you ate so I could help you. You have let yourself go too long without eating.”
She taps a finger on the table. “Listen, listen. This is very serious,” she says. “Be sure to eat often. Don’t get too hungry, or your baser urges will take over. You will regret it.” Voice firming, she continues. “And so will any creature around you. Do you understand this?”
“Yes.” I think I do understand. I’m an animal, a danger, when I’m hungry. To dogs and chickens and deer, and maybe humans too. I have to eat raw meat. Not just raw meat, fresh raw meat. The freshest I can find. I bury my face in my hands.
“You need not feel bad for killing animals for food. You are no different than anyone else in that regard. What you do need to be careful of, is getting too hungry and doing something else you’ll regret. And remember that each time that happens, it weakens the little soul, and eventually, your time will be up.”
“Up? As in permanently?”
She nods gravely.
“What can I do?” Hopelessness weighs my soul down the way the dirt had trapped my body.
“Don’t yourself get too hungry, and eat something you shouldn’t.” The or someone was implied. “Other than that? Nothing.”
That’s when the anger comes back. It’s easier to feel, easier to manage than all the fear.
“I didn’t have a choice in this. I hate it. I had no choice in my murder, no choice in my resurrection. I have no choice but to eat raw meat. No choice but to have to deal with this. It’s not fair. Not to me, not to my family, not to Maisie.”
“Life is not fair.” She swirls a hand in the air, sounding unconcerned. “And sometimes, neither is death.”
The anger propping me up evaporates, and I feel tears burning my eyes.
“You must tell your wife.”
“Not yet,” I mumble. I’ve not been able to think of a way to broach the subject of my…condition…yet. And exactly how is that conversation supposed to go? By the way, Honey, I’m undead. And dangerous.
“You have to tell her.”
I shake my head. I can’t even believe it’s real myself, even though I remember my death and crawling out of my grave, and I need to eat raw, warm flesh for god’s sake. “I don’t know how to.”
“She deserves to know.”
Yes, Maisie deserved to know that I’d been murdered. That I was a zombie. That I might hurt her if I got too hungry.
That I wouldn’t be able to stay with her.
I drop my head to the table, resting on it. I feel all the shame and embarrassment and regret, and utter hopelessness that I’d feel if I had to tell her I’d cheated on her. I never would, ever do that, but somehow that felt like a preferable conversation to have. She might love me enough to forgive me for that.
I don’t know if she loves me enough for this.
I’m not too proud to beg. Throat tight, I meet her eyes. “Is there anything you can do? Another spell? I can pay you—”
But she’s shaking her head, hands spread. “I’ve already done everything I can. It is out of my hands.”
I close my eyes, sinking into a deep internal blackness. Darker than the grave.
This is the first time she’s used my name, and it stops my descent, makes me open my eyes and look at her.
“The time you have remaining is out of my hands, but what you do with that time is still in yours.” She pats my hand and sits back. “So what will you do with it?”
That was the million-dollar question, wasn’t it?
“You have something everyone wants but no one gets: A second chance,” she continues. “A chance to get justice, a chance to spend more time with your loved ones.” Her voice softens. “And a chance to say goodbye, on your terms.”
Now I knew what was happening, had happened—would happen— what would I do with the time I had left?
Sitting at the small table in this 80’s bridesmaid dress-colored house, I suddenly knew, with complete clarity.
I’m going to love Maisie with all my might. I’m going to save those future families from Biff’s toxic crimes.
And I am going to make sure that Biff paid for everything he’d done to me, to my family, to everyone.
I meet Ms. Josephine’s gaze, the fire of life re-lit within me. Even if just temporarily. “I’m going to live.”