Chapter 21: Disconnected.
The black thing emerges from the surf and advances across the beach, stalking after me like a predator. Chunks of seaweed drop away, revealing its human form.
I scramble up a steep dune, scanning the cliffs for an escape route, but the wall here looks un-climbable. The sand collapses and delivers me back to the bottom of the dune. I am cornered.
“What the fuck?” says the thing. “You dug a hole? You were gonna bury me?”
His voice sounds fuzzy and distant, as if transmitted through a string and a tin can.
“Marco?” I say, my voice quivering. “Are you a—?”
“Yeah. I’m a Shade,” he says. “Deader than dead, thanks to you.”
I try to gauge his expression, but I can’t locate his eyes. I can’t even make out a face amidst the pit of light-swallowing blackness perched between his shoulders.
“Look at you,” he says. “Not a scratch on your butt.” He glides over to his corpse and bends down over it.
“Hey, looking good here. I was worried my head might be bashed in. Two arms, two legs, two nuts. Can’t ask for much more. He bends over and tugs at the arrow stub stuck in his clavicle. It won’t budge. “Better leave it, I guess. Don’t want to mess myself up any worse.”
“Worse?” I say.
“C’mon and help me out over here. We gotta get myself put back together. Don’t got much time. This carcass isn’t getting any fresher.”
He swoops down and lies on top of his body, matching his Shade up limb for limb.
“Easy” he says. “You just gotta push me back into myself.”
I come forward, cautiously, afraid to come too close. His cold black hand zips out and snatches my ankle and tugs me closer. Fingers squish against my shin bone like tentacles. He has no bones.
“Okay. How do I do this?” My voice trembles.
“I don’t care,” says Sabonis. “Stomp on me if you have to. But I’ve gotta get back in quick or I’m gonna lose it.”
I step onto his Shade and sink like he’s made of memory foam.
“Don’t just stand there, move around. We gotta get all my parts in.”
“All your parts?”
“All my parts.”
I do a sort of sideways, shuffling jig down the length of one arm and then the other. I repeat the process on his legs. I’m amazed to see the flesh binding to his Shade as a result of my actions. But bits of Shade still bulge out of his torso.
I hop onto his chest with both feet. It gives way and sinks down.
“Oof! I kinda felt that one,” says Sabonis.
“Sorry,” I say.
“No. That’s good. It’s what we’re looking for. That’s what we want. You keep at it, kid Just like that.”
“How the heck did this happen?”
“Don’t know. Just got battered around on the rocks. Impact shook me loose, I guess. Happens. Don’t got the tightest Shade in the joint. Chopping wood, I’ve had my fingers come out from the vibration.” He raises his arm. Two wrists dangle. One pale. One black. “Shit! I’m coming undone! Keep on stomping! Don’t stop!”
I resume my dance, pinning his shady parts down with one foot while slamming the other down like a piston.
“My head! Don’t forget the head.”
His Shade head rests on his skull as if it’s a pillow. I lift my foot, but hesitate.
“Do it! Do it! You goddamn son of a—”
I slam my heel onto his mouth and stifle his words. For a moment he looks like a Picasso, with a Shade ear protruding from his forehead and a Shade nose protruding from his real ear, until it snaps into alignment.
Sabonis gurgles. A gush of water spews out of his mouth. He coughs and sputters and gasps for breath. But it’s his corporeal jaw moving now, his tangible chest that is heaving. His face and limbs are mottled with blackness where the Shade part of him seeps out. But his corpse has been re-animated.
“Mah hahhht, iss nah beeteeh,” he says laboring to control a slack jaw and unresponsive tongue. “Jah yoo noh shee pee aah?”
“Shee … pee … aah,” he repeats, trying to enunciate.
Sabonis nods emphatically.
“How’s that gonna help?”
Sabonis eyes bulge out of his skull. He grabs my ankle again, his grip still cold but firm with flesh and bone. I can tell he really wants me to do it even though the corpse he’s attempting to possess seems much too far gone.
I sigh and kneel beside him. “Call nine one one,” I say to a swooping gull.
“Cuh thuh shih!”
“It’s part of the drill!” I tilt his head back, yank open his jaw and fish his wayward tongue clear of his throat. His mouth smells like a stagnant lagoon. I take a deep breath and bring my lips to his dead mouth, which tastes of salt and grit and rot. I pinch his nostrils shut and deliver two long breaths, fighting off a wave of nausea.
I rear back, spit off to one side, cross my palms over his sternum and push down fifteen times, just like the Red Cross taught me. Two more breaths, two fingers on the jugular to check for pulse, and back to his chest.
Sabonis’ body convulses before I finish the second set of compressions. I rock back onto the sand and rise. Sabonis lifts his head. A glimmer of life has returned to his fishy eyes.
“They gone?” he says, looking up at the cliffs. “She gone?”
“Thanks,” he says, his voice all wheezy. He waggles his arms one at a time, like a boxer shaking out his biceps. “Hell yeah! I’m not as bad off as I thought. Bones are good. Seem to have most of my blood. I’m just a little waterlogged.”
“You don’t look so good.”
“You’re one to talk,” says Sabonis. “You look a bit ratty yourself. Not to mention … the wardrobe malfunction.”
I look down. One of my boobs has slipped free of the raincoat. I quickly tuck it back in and button the coat back up. I come to appreciate the value of a bra.
Sabonis reaches out his hand. I haul him to his feet. He takes a step and wobbles precariously, but manages to stay up. A notice a third appendage oozing out below his left knee.
“Your leg is out.”
“No wonder I can’t walk right,” he says. He sits down, draws his knees up to this chest and hugs them together. With a wet pop, the black limb meshes with his flesh. He rises, bipedal once again, and lurches off down the beach.
“Where are we going?”“Home,” he says. I follow after him, my eyes glued to the ten fingers of his left hand, five made of flesh drooping limp like a bird’s broken wing. I don’t have the heart to tell him.