The cemetery had changed, but so had they.
Lid hadn’t gone to meet anyone. She’d gone to mourn. Well, faux-mourn. It’s hard to mourn when no one you know has died. But she tried anyway, feigning weak sobs while attempting to be affected by memories of her dead cat, dead mouse, dead lizard (the cat had choked on the lizard, which had choked on the mouse. In her memory, anyway, it blended into one ludicrous pet-death montage). That night, she had found the grave of one Silas Pendergrast (one of three), 1907-1989. He must’ve been a tough old shit, she imagined. What, exactly, he had had to tough through, she couldn’t quite remember; her grade in United States Historical Trivia outstanding proof of her lack of attention to such mundane details, and she couldn’t trust the movies for accuracy. In any case, she was sitting uncomfortably atop ol’ Silas’s headstone when the tremor shook her. She fell forward onto the grave, earning a mouthful of weeds in the process.
When she sat up, spitting and pulling Bermuda grass out of her teeth, a movement out of the corner of her eye whipped her head around, toward the mightily fenced-in new section of the cemetery. She hauled herself upright and started over, wondering if the earthquake had toppled any of the grotesque statuary that only the very wealthy could afford to erect over the graves that only the very wealthy could these days afford.
The “Celestial Orb Supreme” plot was a monument to the sorrow of dollars the dead had not lived to spend. A fountain in the center performed each deceased’s favorite huetunes, in glorious sentiment-scented mists. The closer Lid got, she more annoyingly she was attacked by simulated joy, regret, and passion. The fountain wasn’t so much an attraction as a repellent. Its bombardment of emotions was designed to deter even the most dedicated grave robber. It was lucky for her, then, that the emotional-leveler implant her parents had insisted upon when she was born still worked so effectively. She felt the intended feelings, just…in a refracted way: the way that an eclipse box let one see the shadow of the moon supplanting the sun, but at the same time denied the viewer the dangerous glory of that bright solar vision.
As she neared the fence, a chorus of anger stirred a spike in her blood. The melody was, if she remembered her Alcohol References in Obscure Music class, from a Murder City Devils song. Lid knew that if she were more susceptible, she’d leave right now, in search of some bar, some whiskey to calm her, some arms to embrace her or fight her. Instead, she spit on the fence, and, assured it wasn’t electrified, climbed over it.
The ground on the other side was soft. Cushy. The lawn was dense and felt nuzzleable between her bare toes. Lid realized then that her flips had fallen off on her clamber over the fence. She stood there, absorbing: the huetones that made her itch with near-feeling; the pomposity of protecting dead meat so fervently while trying to pass for honorable grace. She snorted a little. A hand burst upward from the fresh grave she was standing on.
She reached down, grabbed the flailing limb, and heaved upward. As the earth gave, softening against the body’s struggle, Lid scrolled through her mental Rolodex for information: Vampires in Film and Television, 1980-2010, had prepared her for an onslaught as soon as the fiend finished erupting from the grave. Drawing on Intermediary Mortal Kombat Moves , she dropped the hand and readied herself for an uppercut, to be immediately followed by a roundhouse. A Fatality, of course, would be out of the question for one already undead.
Another arm reached up, then a face emerged, gasping. “Hey,” it croaked, after a long series of wheezes. “This sucks. Help me out.”
Not seeing fangs, she slightly relaxed her ass-kicking pose and moved closer. “Are you going to fucking eat me? Or what? What’s your game…er…” she consulted the headstone, “Raoud Eppelfesia? Dude, that name is terrible.”
Raoud spat some dirt out. It stuck to his chin in a glob. “I know.” He spat again. The glob rolled down his neck, which was wriggling skyward like a growing plant in fast-motion video. “Yours any better?”
Raoud stopped struggling. “Are you going to help me, or not?”
“I’m not going to eat you. At least, I don’t think I am.”
“Why are you even trying to get out, then? Oh fuck,” Lid gasped, almost felt, what was it…horror? “Were you buried alive?”
Raoud shrugged. Dirt trickled out of his hair, which looked like it might be red. “I don’t know. I think I died.”
“Ah. Were you bitten by something, um, supernatural?” She felt like a shmuck. She should have paid more attention in How to Talk to the Dead and Dying.
He laughed. “You went to public school.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in it up to my armpits. I died, I guess, and now I’m here talking to some chick who won’t help me out of a grave. I’d say ‘fucked’ is exactly what I already am.”
“If you try to eat me, I’ll kill you again.”
“I get it.”
“I don’t know if you do.”
“I pinky swear that I won’t eat you.”
Lid was skeptical. “What’s a pinky swear supposed to mean to a, a, a ghoul?”
“It’s a time-honored tradition. Just because I’m dead…or was dead…doesn’t mean I’m going to break it now.”
Lid looked him in the face. Under the layer of wet dirt, he was possibly a good-looking guy. His haircut was kind of stupid, but then again, rich kids’ always were. His eyes, done up with some pretty stellar final-viewing mascara, it looked like, were gray. “What color are your eyes?”
“Just checking.” Lid stepped forward, reached down, and pinky locked him. “Swear.”
“You’re not going to eat me. Oh, or molest me, or kill me in some other way.”
“I’m not going to do any of those things.”
“I’ll kick your ass.”
“I know. I just met you, and I already know that. Though, I guess met isn’t exactly right.”
Lid grabbed his hand and pulled with all her Tug o’ War for Beginners might. Raoud scrabbled hard, struggling upward, until finally he collapsed forward and Lid fell backward, panting. He righted himself, took a halting step forward, and reached down to help her up. After he’d tugged her to her feet, he leaned forward and chomped down on her shoulder.
Lid spun away, kicked him in the solar plexus, and he fell into the huetunes fountain, disrupting a gurgly version of “Between the Bars.” A horrendous martini-glass sculpture a few graves down made abrupt sense. While Raoud gasped with laughter, Lid prepared to put him back in his grave.
“You zombie fuck!”
“It was a joke!”
“You fucking bit me! I’m gonna bust your teeth in!”
“I barely bit you! I didn’t even break the skin. Look. Look, Lid.”
Lid looked. Felt. While slightly sore, her shoulder didn’t resemble Snow White’s apple. It was just smeared with dirt. “You ruined my shirt, asshole.”
“Are you going to let me get up?”
“You fucked up that fountain.” The fountain picked back up with something Lid didn’t recognize. It must’ve been new.
“Lid. Let’s get out of here.”
“And go where? You look like a goddamned dug up corpse.”
“I don’t know. Your place?”
Either his grin or the huetune was getting to her. “I’ll have to sneak you in.”
His grin got grinnier. “Even better.”
Sneaking Raoud in consisted of entering her detached apartment through the back alley gate instead of through the main house’s front yard. After a car ride in near silence due to Lid’s firm and imposing grasp on her Taser (which she wasn’t sure would work on a dead dude, but it helped to hold it), she wasn’t ready for much more excitement. After getting into her place, she led Raoud straight to the bathroom. “Bathe,” she demanded, pointing at the shower. “You’re getting dirt everywhere.”
“Just get in.”
“Want to come with me?” Raoud winked. At least she thought he winked. His features were still a little difficult to make out.
“I think I’ll let you examine your damage yourself. I’ll get you something to wear.”
“Oh.” Raoud said. “Right. He looked down at his chest, then back up at Lid. “You’re still gonna be here when I get out?”
“I came this far.”
He nodded, and shut the bathroom door.
When the water started running, Lid paced around her place. She had class in the morning, but she could skip it. Shit, what was this guy? Why didn’t he stay dead? Why had he died? Why, most importantly, had she brought him home with her? She didn’t even bring guys or girls home from the bar. She went into the kitchen, poured herself some wine and gulped it. She sat on the couch, got up, sat down, remembered to go get some clothes for the naked dead guy in her shower, got up. She dug into her Exes’ drawer and came up with some purple pants with an ice cream cone printed on the crotch, and a green t-shirt that looked like maybe it would fit Raoud. She was walking toward the bathroom to leave them on a chair in the short hallway when he opened the door a crack. “Lid?”
“Yeah?” Her voice squeaked to make up for the silent door hinges.
“Right here.” She reached them forward.
“Thanks.” He shut the door. “These pants are ridiculous”
“This whole situation is.”
“The shirt fits.”
“Well, there you go.”
“The pants are too tight in the ice cream cone.”
Lid laughed. “I thought maybe they autopsied that part off.” She stopped laughing, in case it was true.
“I guess I didn’t get autopsied. No slice and dice scars.”
He opened the door. They looked at each other. His hair was red. So were his eyebrows. He raised one. “Got a glass of red for me?” He pointed at her wine.
“Sure. Kitchen’s this way.” She led him in, poured him up with a glass only a smidge less full than hers had been. “Here,” she offered. She noticed his hands. “Oh. Fuck.” They were mangled. She hadn’t seen it before, through the dirt. “I…shit. We need to bandage you up.”
“They hurt like hell.”
“C’mon.” Lid led him back to the bathroom. “Sit.” He lowered the toilet lid, sat. Lid dug a roll of gauze and a tube of antiseptic ointment of out a bathroom drawer. She dabbed the ointment on, aware of his winces. “You want to talk about it?”
“Getting out? You were there. Thank you. I don’t think I said it yet. Thank you, a lot. I don’t know if I could have managed that last bit on my own.”
“What do you remember? Why were you there? I don’t know what the hell to make of this.”
She finished winding his fingers in gauze, and held out his glass of wine. “Can you hold this okay? Do you want a straw or something?”
“I’ll manage,” Raoud grinned. He looked tired. “Can we get outta the bathroom now?”
“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” She walked back into the living area, sat cross-legged on the sofa. She patted the cushion next to her. “I won’t bite if you won’t.”
He sat next to her, took a sip of wine, grimaced. “This isn’t very good.”
“I’m on a budget.”
“No worries. I’ll drink it.”
“Just more for me if you don’t.” She paused, touched the scratches on his face. “These are okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. Just weirded out.”
“You and me both.”
They were silent, drinking the not very good wine. Raoud tugged the hair at the back of his head. “I was reading.”
“I was reading this book: Lethem’s As She Climbed Across the Table. This woman falls in love with a kind of tear in the Universe, and her boyfriend, in order to not lose her, goes into the tear and becomes it? I was reading, in my bed, and I felt so fucking sad. I’d never felt sad like that. Never felt like that. I don’t know what it was about that book; I’ve read tons of others. Tragedies, even. But they left me the same as always: vaguely affected. And that’s all I remember, really. Reading, feeling, then…like, lightning, in my head. Like a migraine, but it was all in one burst, and then, then, I woke up.” He cleared his throat; swallowed. “In the coffin. My folks must’ve chintzed on it, because I managed to bust out it. I guess taking Advanced Mortal Kombat Moves paid off.”
“I took that class! Well, Intermediary.”
“Heh. I didn’t know they offered that at State.”
“It was new.”
Lid took a drink. Had a thought. “Raoud, how old are you?”
“Me too. You know, the year I was born, the Leveler implants were released.”
“Yeah. I have one.”
“They recalled them the same year, what with all the infant deaths.”
“I know. There aren’t many of us that survived them.”
“What are the odds?
“Of two of us survivors meeting each other the same night one returned from the dead? I wouldn’t have put any money on that.”
Lid was searching, going through Anatomy, Psych, and Science Fiction course memories. “You say you felt intensely sad? When you read that book?”
“Yeah. For a moment, it was incredible. It was like nothing I’d experienced before.”
“I’ve never felt like that.”
“The implant is supposed to prevent it. We were supposed to save the world or at least the United States by not getting swept up in all that unhealthy raw emotion. Some idea. I barely made it through college.”
“I’m still going. I’m on the extended plan. The work-until-I-can-afford-more-classes plan.”
“I don’t have anything better to do.”
“Me neither. I’ve been loafing pretty consistently for the last couple years, to my rich parents’ dismay.”
Lid drank. Reached out, touched Raoud’s purple-clad knee. “I wonder if your implant failed.”
“And that’s what killed me?”
“I don’t know if you died. You’re breathing, drinking, conversing. You’re not eating my brains, and you’re wounds haven’t healed spontaneously. How’s the rest of your body?”
Raoud raised an eyebrow. “Beat up. But functioning.”
“God, I’m an idiot. I should have taken you to the hospital, instead of plying you with alcohol. You could keel back over at any minute. Shit. Shit!” she shook her head, stood. “Let’s go. I can’t be responsible for you dying again, or being dead, or whatever the fuck is going on. I don’t know! Get up, please. Or, wait, should I call an ambulance? Should I—”
Raoud pulled her down next to him, put his bandaged arms awkwardly around her. “Calm down. I’m where I want to be. We’ll go, but give me a minute. I want to enjoy this.”
“Enjoy what? Being a, a, a fucking miracle or something? What if it’s a time-based defect? What if I’m going to keel over at any moment because this fucking implant decides so? What if—” Raoud kissed her. After a couple of seconds, she kissed him back, then pulled away.
“I’m not sure if I can.”
“I hate it."
“You hated kissing me?”
“I hate being so…meh. I can’t even use the word ‘hate’, really. I barely disturb the surface.”
“Why don’t you get it removed?”
“I missed the recall deadline. My parents were believers, even in the face of the mortality rate. It’s elective, now, and I’ve never had the money. And the risk is so high.”
“It could kill you.”
She giggled a little, kissed him hard, and sighed.
Lid wrapped Raoud’s arm around her shoulders as they leaned against a new wall of ashes. “I could still kick your ass, you know.”
“I never forget.”
“Where’s my gift for putting in all this time with you?”
“Same place it always is,” he said, running a finger over the scar at the base of her neck.
She rubbed his nearly identical one in return. “This place gets uglier every year.”
“Good thing we aren’t going to end up here.”
She bit him in the arm and laughed.
Mary Long is an Assistant Professor at the College of Pop Culture Science, Research and Practical Application (The CPSRPA) where textbooks are mostly illustrations and guest speakers have included Sam Rami, Jim Davis and Blanka. She enjoys looking around and thinking, "Jinkies, of all the things all these people could be doing - they're doing this?"