Chapter 44: Awake
With a queer sensation best described as falling up a tunnel, I awoke with a start. My body ached. My skin burned. Pain seared my throat.
I was conscious, but was I alive? Early on, before things fell apart, wild speculation abounded that the undead were still sentient beings trapped in their reanimated corpses. Could this be true?
I tried to make my limbs obey simple commands. My body seemed unable to comply. Darkness surrounded me. Funny, who would have thought the undead were blind? I relaxed, cleared my mind and bit by bit gained my senses.
The sudden idea my eyes were merely closed amused me. I tried to execute the sequence of muscle movements needed to open them. At last I succeeded. Victory of sorts, I suppose. A faint yellow glow flickered in the distance. My eyes adjusted while they remembered how to focus. I became astonished to find the light, candlelight, to be close at hand.
Rather buoyed by mastering such a complex part of my body, I again attempted to move my limbs. Alas, I met with no better results. However, I discovered I could move my neck and head.
I wasn’t hungry, nor did I have the urge to bite someone. I conceded I’d not joined the ranks of the undead.
Soft material rubbed against my neck. I surmised, rather cleverly I thought, given my degraded state of sensory perception, my head rested on a pillow. Could this be home? Had I awakened from a horrible nightmare devised in the recess of my mind? Nice try, but no. Yet another attempt to rationalize my current state failed.
I flexed my hands and concluded I remained very much alive. The pain I felt spoke to the fact. I’m tied up, I realized in relief. Relief, because it meant someone remained alive and didn’t want the bother of being bitten by little ole me.
I cleared my throat and wished I hadn’t. Clearing my throat again, I felt relief from the intense pain. Delighted, I attempted another go. Before I could sequence the Herculean task of a cough, Theo and Chris stood over me.
Surprised, I choked. I felt myself turned onto my side and spat into a towel held below my mouth. Memory flooded over me. I was Annabel, and I was alive.
“Nice one, sis.”
Theo cleaned my face with a cool, wet cloth. “Don’t bite,” he joked while he wiped.
“Think it’s safe to untie her?” Chris asked much too seriously.
“I don’t know, man. I kind of like her like this,” Theo replied rather more lighthearted.
“Ha-- How’s Laura?” I croaked and then spit out more of the thick phlegm.
“She’s alive,” Chris replied.
“Water,” I rasped.
Chris stood and headed for the kitchen. I knew it to be the kitchen because I suddenly recognized the room. We had made it to my Grandparents’ house. Theo untied me. Chris returned with water. Theo helped me sit and I gulped the entire cup.
“Everyone else okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. Pretty banged up, but alive,” Theo replied.
Chris lit two oil lamps. I stared at Theo’s face. His good cheek shined purple and so swollen it threatened to close off his eye.
“What happened to you?” Stirred by faint memories of better times, I smiled and said, “Your face.”
“Hold that thought ’till you look in a mirror.” Theo chuckled.
I put my hand to my cheek. It burned hot.
I turned to Chris. “Is there anything hot to drink?”
“Yeah, tea. No sugar though. Want some?”
“Yes, please,” I replied hoarsely. “Are Grandma and Grandpa here?”
“Yeah. In a way. Aunt Mary came. Left a note,” Chris said and went to make my tea.
I looked at Theo. “Is Aunt Mary still here?”
Theo avoided my gaze. He hesitated. “Your Grandparents are buried by the creek. Your Aunt and two cousins found them. They were -- well, your Aunt offed them.”
“What about Aunt Mary’s family? Are they here?”
I knew by his tone the fate which befell them. It was expected. Poor Dad, he always had a fool’s hope of finding family alive. At least now we knew. I tried to mourn, but couldn’t. Time enough for that later.
“Well, I better go and tell your dad you’re okay. He’ll want some good news,” Theo said and stood up.
“No, don’t. Not yet, this is… nice.”
Theo sat down. I leaned my head on his shoulder and we sat in silence. Chris returned with my hot tea, made excuses and left.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” I asked in a frightened whisper.
Theo sniggered, “Yeah, I think you’re nuts. Always did.”
“I’m serious. My dreams. No, visions. Now do you think I’m crazy?”
“Maybe I’m nuts. But no.” Theo sighed. “I believe you and I believe something weird is happening and that something is connected with you.”
“I can’t explain, but after the last few days--”
“What?” I demanded.
“Well,” Theo hesitated. “You know the ghost at the church?”
“I’ve seen more.” Theo glanced around, then lowered his voice. “I haven’t told anyone, but I’m sure of it.”
I sighed. “They’re Ngạ Quỷ, hungry ghosts. She’s trapped in this existence and she’s followed us. Her name was Margret Carlson. I spoke to her while I -- How long have I been out?”
“I spoke to her in my trance. No, more like a near death experience.”
“What does she want?”
“She wants her beauty back. She’s afraid. Afraid to have died ugly.”
“I promised to help her,” I said, terrified by the words.
“How many are there?”
“A billion,” I whispered, stunned to put into words what I knew to be true. “Something’s gone horribly wrong. Many of the dead find it impossible to cross over.”
Theo stared at me for long moments. “That sucks.”
“You believe me?”
“Yeah. When the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, I’ll show you why.”
Again, we sat in silence. I felt an inner peace I could not explain. To talk to someone was a relief. Having someone believe me? A feeling beyond description.
Curious, I asked, “What happened, you know, after the bridge?”
Theo sat quiet for a moment. “Well, the herd was huge. I don’t know how we missed it. Your dad wanted to fight our way to you. But we were surrounded and had no choice but to make a break for it. Even with the .50 cal, we didn’t have the firepower to take them all down. I knew about the smiley face, but at the time I didn’t realize we were on it.”
“I told you. At the bridge, I told you.” I stared at Theo in disbelief.
“Yeah, well. Now that you mention it.”
“You knew about the smiley face, huh?” I asked, well aware of Theo’s propensity to exaggerate in the retelling of a story.
“Yeah, I did. I talk to George you know. Me and George, we’re tight.”
“Hmm.” I smiled.
“So I got your dad calmed down and we made it to the highway. We hung around as long as we could. The whole area crawled with moaners, so we drew the horde away. It ended up a forty-mile detour.
“It killed your dad, but we decided to lay low for the night. Turns out, we were only about two miles from you when we stopped.” Theo shook his head and took a sip of my tea.
“How did Jenny get loose?”
“Well, she didn’t get loose. She got better, so your dad and Jane cut her free. By morning, she looked pretty good. We decided to keep the kids in the Spell’s car. Jane thinks Jenny died from a blood clot. The rest you know.”
“Did you have any trouble getting to the farm?”
“Hell, yeah. That’s when the trouble really began.”
“Oh, thanks. Glad rescuing me wasn’t a bother.”
“That’s not it. Strange shit started to happen. Right after you passed out there was an earthquake. It was huge, shook everything for about ten minutes. Your dad thinks it was the big one. You know, New Madrid.”
“I saw lightning before I passed out.”
“Yeah, didn’t see any clouds though, did you? It was creepy. Then clouds did move in and weirded me out completely.”
“I can’t describe it. I’ll have to show you,” Theo replied. “When we got to the interstate we had a pretty sharp fight on our hands. Your dad didn’t want any guns so close to the farm. I broke my bat over a moaner, so I took on six of them with my bare hands. That’s how I got this.” Theo pointed to his swollen face.
“Myyy ass,” Susan said and walked into the room. “All you did was push them off the bridge. Gravity did all the work. You slipped and face planted on the concrete.”
“Yeah, well, you know,” Theo muttered.
“No, I don’t know.” Susan smiled at Theo’s discomfort.
“Just don’t let Chris know,” Theo pleaded.
I laughed. “I’m sure you were very brave.” Theo’s stories grew larger with each retell. I’m positive whatever he recounted to Chris already strayed from the truth. If Theo had his way, the story would pass into the realm of epic fantasy.
Susan rushed over and hugged me. “Annabel, you look terrible.”
“Funny, that’s just how I feel.”
“Have you shown it to her yet?” Susan asked Theo and sat on the couch.
“No. I’m waiting for it to get light out.”
“What,” I demanded, “is going on?”
Theo and Susan exchanged dark glances but neither ventured an explanation.
“Something weird is happening,” Susan finally said. “And we think it involves you and Laura, or at least it all started when you two did the sisterhood medicine. Everything changed, just like that.” She snapped her fingers.
“Like what?” I asked.
“The earthquake,” Theo said.
“The lightning without a cloud in the sky,” Susan said. “Thunder out of this world. Laura--”
Chris came back into the room. “I just checked on her. She’s alive, if you want to call it that. We don’t know what’s going on with her. Mom’s afraid the antidote got mixed wrong, because it was supposed to be painful. But with Laura, nothing. She just smiled and fell asleep.”
“Where’s Laura now?” I demanded.
“Upstairs with Klara. She hasn’t left her side since Laura took the medicine.”
“Remember when I told you I would let you know if I heard voices in my head?” I asked Chris, expecting, and not being disappointed by the concern on his face. “Well, it’s happened ever since the night we left Fishers Creek.”
“Crazy? Maybe. Listen, the sisterhood medicine is much more than an antidote. I came close to the edge, as close as a living person can without crossing over.”
“Really? When we got to the house, we thought you were dead.” Theo said. “For hours, we expected you to die. Jane had a hard time finding a pulse or heartbeat. Twice she performed CPR on you.”
“I expected to die, too. In my coma or trance, whatever, I saw and heard things. So much I can’t remember, but it does seem to be with me, buried deep. Something terrible and wonderful is about to happen.”