Chapter 20: Second Death
Half-embedded in sand, Sabonis lies with the driftwood among dismembered crab claws and wave-tossed bits of shell. A broken arrow juts between the collarbone and sinews of his neck. Eyes, clouded like the fish no one buys at the market, gaze into the void. His arms spread outward as if seeking an embrace, his legs frozen in mid-stride.
I approach cautiously, creeped out by his corpse. Why should I be squeamish of the dead when I am dead myself? I just am. I can’t help it.
It strikes me as unfair and redundant, this second death. Wasn’t dying once bad enough? Whatever happened to rest in peace? And how many levels of death could there be? Was eternity only a hall of mirrors, a series of diminished existences that lead us downward until we peter out into nothingness?
The buttons of Sabonis’ shirt have burst, exposing the pale skin of his belly and the crest of black fur up the mid-line. Pink fluid oozes from an otherwise bloodless wound. His shirt tail sweeps up over his shoulder like a cape. Bedded in the black sand, he looks like a bas-relief of a floating prophet from a Raphael painting—the one where Jesus hovers over his cowering disciples on a hill top.
Death still puzzles and repels me. I am unfamiliar with its face. That sounds odd coming from a dead person, but I had never attended a funeral all my life (other than my own). My grandfather died just before I was born, and my other grandparents survive me. Sabonis is my first direct encounter with the sallow face of a dead man.
Facing his pathetic remains, I find myself straining to feel something, to get beyond the numbness that suffuses every aspect of me. Maybe the once-dead like myself are exempted from grieving and the twice-dead don’t qualify. I haven’t known Sabonis very long, but I should feel something more than ‘at least it wasn’t me.’
What is wrong with me? Is Lethe as numbing emotionally as it is physically? I try to pierce through the numbness, but there is nothing behind it. I am empty inside. Is this what Clearing was about? Shutting out every kind of pain? Flushing your humanity?
I nudge him with my foot. He is soft and quivery like fresh meat, pre-rigor mortis. I kneel and brush sand off his face. Still, I obsess over the blankness in my heart, fishing for any kind of emotion, for any strong feeling, but I find only vague disappointment and mild frustration over a quest truncated before it could get started. In the end, all I can muster is feeling bad about not feeling bad. I am devoid of sentiment.
It seems more proper to bury him rather than leave him for the gulls to peck. I find a stick and begin scratching a trench at the base of a dune. I drop to my knees and scoop handfuls of sand. The act takes me back to my childhood when my sister Diane would let me bury her up to her neck. How she would laugh if she could see me now with my tits and girlie ass. I catch myself. Yeah right. If she could see her little brother burying a corpse on some hellish beach in the afterlife. Ha ha. Funny. Not.
I look out at a gentler sea. An outer reef now restrains the larger swells. Gentle ripples lap at the beach. It hardly seems the same ocean.
I make a trench deep enough to hide a body; shallow enough to satisfy a serial killer, but I keep digging. My senses begin to click into place like the bars and stars of a slot machine. I contemplate my future.
I realize now how mindless my decision was to follow Sabonis down the mountain. Who was I to question the order of the afterlife? This rebellion must have been an aftershock of my dying, my rejection of the permanence of it, another phase of denial. I wonder how common such reactions are here. I wonder if Bianca will forgive my impetuous decision and take me back.
I glance up at the fractured cliffs and imagine eyes glaring down on me. I wonder what happened to Alecto and her hunting companion. Was it a sign that I am forgiven that she opted to throw me a line instead of impaling me with her arrow? Does that mean I could walk back to Mt. Abdiel unmolested? I don’t know if I can handle a night alone in the hills or an unaccompanied passage through Gihon.
I wish Bianca would show up. I wonder if she can be summoned with a prayer. Whoever said the thing about there being no atheists in foxholes probably never realized that the same was true of the after world. The presence of a Higher Power is a no-brainer to me now. Based on what I’ve seen so far, though, They’re not who we thought They were. None of us were right. Not the Buddhists, not the Jews and definitely not the Christians.
And this is when my gut seizes. If I go back to the mountain, I have no hope of seeing Gina. Not ever. Never. Unless she died and went to Heaven … or Elysium, if one even had anything to do with the other. But I can’t wish such a thing on her. Have I sunk so low that my only resort is to hope for my girlfriend’s death?
I wonder, if instead of Ascending or Clearing, I should take a shot at finding this Delgado person, the one who stole Sabonis’ cat. This possibility, however far-fetched, appeals to me far more than struggling up that mountain. I don’t know what that implies about me. Perhaps I am doomed to become a Squatter.
When the trench I dig strikes the water table and its sides crumble as quickly as I can remove the collapsings, I give up and mosey over to Sabonis’ body, straightening his legs and peeling his shirt out of the sand. I drag him over to the sorry grave I have dug for him.I am dragging Sabonis when something rises from the surf draped in seaweed and dripping. The beast is as large as a man and blacker than black. I let go of Sabonis and back away. The creature comes straight for me, drifting like a shadow over the sand. I stumble backwards up the dunes. My jaw trembles. My heart winds into overdrive. Now I feel plenty. Now I can fear.