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Chapter 51

Chapter 51: Lucy and Bianca

Sabonis drags his carcass up out of the sand, bends over and belches seawater. Algae slickens his legs. He peels strands of seaweed out of his beard. The scar on his cheekbone, from the time he tangled with Cato, is gone. The skin on his hands is puckered but smooth; his Shade, knit tightly to his flesh. His body has been replaced.

“Hot dog!

He straightens up and stretches. A short, glassy woman watches him from atop a tussocked dune. Startled to see her, he stumbles in the sand.

He collects himself and glares up at her, widening his stance, cocking his hands on his hips as she glides towards him down the dunes. The wind buffets his slack penis against his thigh.

“Hello,” she says. “You must be Marco. I am Lucy. I’ll be your Guide.”

“The Hell you will.”

“Excuse me?”

“I don’t need no fucking Guide. Do you know who I am? I’m what they call an Unfettered One.”

“I can see your thread,” she says. “You’re not Unfettered at all. You’re just an ordinary soul.”

“Ordinary, my ass,” says Sabonis. “You’re a newbie, aren’t you?” He spies a pair of souls, a man and a woman, sprinting down the beach towards them. They’re practically flying.

“Come,” says Lucy. “Let’s find your stratum.”

“Hey, I know you’re just trying to do your job and all but … bug off. Okay?”

He looks at the runners, trying to discern whether they’re chasing or being chased. But he knows well the woman’s slender-hipped figure, her flowing hair. It’s Bianca, but she has flesh. She must be Fallen.

He recognizes the man as well. It’s Simon, an old-time Squatter that Sabonis has known since his early days on Lethe.

Simon’s jaw hangs slack, misaligned with the rest of his face, giving him the appearance of being in constant awe, but it’s just the result of an old fracture that didn’t set quite right.

“Marco!” says Bianca. She runs up and embraces him. “When Simon told me you were here, I didn’t believe him. You’re back much sooner than I expected.

“Yeah, well … wasn’t no picnic on the other side.”

“I tried to warn you.”

“Say farewell to your friends,” says Lucy. “It’s time to find your place on the mountain.”

Bianca sighs. “Lucy, will you please leave us be? I guarantee that this one will not be climbing anytime soon, with anyone … and neither will I.”

Simon guffaws. Lucy backs away up the dune looking flustered. Bianca takes Sabonis’ arm and leads him away.

Sabonis looks back at the impression he left behind in the sand. “Tried to bring some shit back. Tanqueray and chew. Seem to have lost it. I don’t know how Delgado does … er … did it.”

“I’ve been roaming all the beaches, waiting for you to show.”

“For … me?”

“Yes. Are you surprised?”

“Kinda. Cuz I told you I wasn’t planning to come back.”

“Oh, I knew you wouldn’t like it there. You just didn’t want to listen.”

“So what’s up with you? You’re talking like a Squatter?”

“Maybe I am, in a sense. I thought, perhaps, you might want to go to Dilmun. Fix up your house. There was a storm, you know. Seraphim and all.”

“What’s this about me not being Unfettered?”

“I wouldn’t fret about it,” says Bianca. “You were never that interested in climbing, anyhow. Were you? And if you do want to climb, you can always get it done the way everyone else does. That’s still open to you.”

“Not sure I like this arrangement,” says Sabonis. “But … does that mean the Facilitators will leave me alone?”

“Facilitators? Why would they bother with a Squatter? Just don’t go meddling with the Interface and they’ll pay you no heed.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. No fucking way I’m going back there again. I’m sorry I ever did.”

“Why?” says Bianca. “What happened?”

“You never told me they had Facilitators in the living world. Man, they were tough to shake. I felt like a mouse in a room full of cats. Chased me all the way to Waterbury. Had me trapped in a brass factory. I had to crawl through culverts to get away.”

“What about Dan?”

“No clue what happened to him. He was still in the boat when the Pounders hit. Then there was this snaky thing that dumped me in the water. I started to sink, so I latched onto this strand. Tried to buck me, but I hung on till it dragged me all the way to the other side, skimming along the ocean all the way to some hospital room in Cape May.

This guy’s family nearly died of fright when I showed up. Even the dead guy started freakin’ at me. Got my ass out of there quick. I went out to the Parkway and hitched another ride, this time on an eighteen-wheeler.”

“Whatever that is,” says Bianca.

“It’s a truck,” says Sabonis. “It’s—”

“Whatever, Marco. Go on.”

“The amazing thing, though I didn’t realize it right away, it was 1999. I saw it up there in big lights on one of those bank time and temperature signs. Right back where I left off. I’m talking days after I died. Kind of explains why I lost touch with Dan.”

But anyway, I got off in Bridgeport and walked north, up through Stratford and Shelton and Derby and Seymour—all the way to Naugatuck.”

“Did you go see Joanne?”

“Why the Hell else would I go to Naugatuck?” he says. “But I wish I hadn’t.” He sighed and kicked at the sand. “I went straight to her place. Rang the doorbell. She came to the door in a nightie. Didn’t see me right away. I said, loud as I could: “Hi Joanne, Long time, no see.” My voice sounded like a bottle rattling around a garbage can. She kind of squealed and slammed the door. But then something funny happened. She came back to the door and opened it back up a tad.”

“You didn’t harm her, did you? You used to talk … of going back to murder her.”

“That was just talk,” says Sabonis. “I could never hurt Joanne. I hurt her plenty over the years, the stuff I pulled.”

“Did she recognize you?”

“Doubt she saw much, but she knew it was me. She even said: ‘Marc?’”

“I said, ‘Yeah baby, it’s me.’“

“She said: ‘I’m not hallucinating, am I?’”

“I told her no. I told her that I just escaped from Hell.”

“She said: ‘Why doesn’t that surprise me?’”

“I asked if she was gonna let me in or not. Her eyes wandered all around, trying to find my face, my eyes, but she couldn’t. She said: ‘I just made a pot. Wanna come in for some coffee?’”

“I said: ‘Coffee don’t do me much good these days, Joanne, but I wouldn’t mind coming in for a chat.’”

“It caught me off-guard, her being so cool about having a ghost show up at her door. But Joanne was always a big believer in the supernatural, so I guess seeing a ghost was no big deal to her. What surprised me more was that she was nice to me. Calm, polite. She let me talk and she sat there and listened. That alone was worth going back for, and more than I dared to hope.”

“So I went in and sat down at the kitchen table, the chair nearest the door, my chair before we separated. She sat down across from me, looking good, I mean really good for a lady pushing fifty, not a whole lot of lines or droops, even though she just got out of bed. I had kind of stopped noticing how pretty she was. To me she was just Joanne. And I just sat there feeling pleased with myself, happy just to look at her, just to be there.”

“But then Joanne starts getting antsy. She says: ‘What brings you here?’ Can you imagine? What brings you here, as if I came back from the dead to shoot the shit over a cup of coffee?”

“I tell her I just wanted to see her. I get all passive-aggressive, saying that I didn’t get a chance to come over and say goodbye when I was stuck in the hospital.”

“And then she gets all defensive, saying that she had planned to come by, no hard feelings, but she had no idea things were so bad, that the end was so close. I guess, no one ever told her that I had accelerated the process. That I … killed myself.”

“So I apologized for all the shit I pulled on her over the years. The affairs. The savings I blew, going to Foxwoods and Mohegan. Treating her like crap in general. Joanne, she was a good woman. She never deserved any of the stuff I pulled.”

“She says: ‘Water under the bridge. I was no angel myself.’ That last bit threw me a little. I had no idea what she meant. Not sure I want to know.”

“She got curious, asked me what things were like on the other side. I told her it was no big shakes. Just like here, but different. Kinda … rustic.”

“She’s looking at me, looking for something to look at, and she tears up and tries to find my hand to hold it but it’s too cold for her to hold it for long. That’s when she really breaks down, sobbing, and I realize I’d better be going.”

“But first I ask her to do me a favor. She says: ‘Sure, anything.’ Well, I ask … could she write me a letter and hand deliver it for me? She clamps up and sits up all straight and stiff, asks me if this is for a girlfriend of mine. I say no, not at all, just some guy I knew on the other side. So she loosens up and goes and gets a pen and paper.”

“A letter?” says Bianca. “For who?”

“Dan,” says Sabonis. “Only thing is … I tell she’s gotta hang onto it for ten years … and make arrangements to get it delivered if she can’t do it herself.”

“Why … a letter?”

“To keep his ass out of Lethe before his time,” says Sabonis. “To warn him.”

Bianca looks stunned, eyes all flickery. “Do you suppose … she did as you said?”

“She promised,” says Sabonis. “And this is Joanne we’re talking about. Unlike me … Joanne keeps her promises.”
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