Deep Ellum, Deadside . . .
“Who said that?” I ask calmly, hoping a giant grotesque undead monster is not standing behind me. And if it is, I hope he’s not attracted to me. I don’t want to even ponder the undead rape angle to all this.
As I slowly turn I notice this thin man—gaunt almost—his skin as grey as dirty ice. He’s only about five feet away from me. He has no hair, and his arms are obscured by a tattered poncho that he has draped over his bony shoulders.
“You are him, aren’t you? You are . . . John?”
“In the flesh,” I say,” . . . I think.”
The thin man, he just stares at me for a moment, looking me up and down. He’s looking at me the way Ricky did after I got all these markings painted on my skin. The eyes of this man, they’re green. They’re the only bit of color on him. If his eyes were closed I would swear I was looking at a cadaver waiting for autopsy.
He could be lying flat on his back, waiting for the linoleum knife, except for those eyes of his. There was still life in this man.
“Who are you?” I ask carefully, not sure about the proper etiquette in this place.
He took a step closer, “My name is Thomas.” And then he lowers his head, almost like he’s paying me respect. Reverence, even. I fell awkward.
“Okay, Thomas,” I said, “. . . you know who I am?”
His green eyes lit-up, as his face lifted, “You . . . you are John. We all know who you are.”
Not wanting to look like this is my first supernatural rodeo I said, “And do you know of my last name?”
He smiled, “This is a test. You’re testing me?”
Uh, yeah. This is, um, a test.
He nodded, extending his hand, “You are St. John the Divine. I mean, you are his reincarnate. You are the John, prophesized by St. John the Divine. The one that will save us all.”
Well, at least people aren’t expecting too much out of me.
“Where is everyone?” I asked. “Where are the rest of you?”
His eyes glance up to the sky, searching it as he moved closer to the wall. And I’m thinking that this is something he had learned from experience, so I follow suit.
“Most of us, at least in this part of the city, are gathered at the church. They are instructing the new ones about this place.”
I asked him what they called it, not wanting to be rude and call it Deadside when it’s really called Nightmare World, or Horrorville. I’m sensitive to things like that. Who has glowing symbols all over his body, impeccable social grace, and two thumbs? This guy, right here.
“Oh, this is the Deadside. We’re Deadsiders. And you,” he said nodding towards me, “well . . . you are the one who walks between, the one who can cross—you’re the savior. The Crosser.”
I’m way out of my league. I hope he doesn’t see that I’m just some washed-up idiot with my memory destroyed. That I was just one interview away from being a tard-farmer who has to wear long-sleeved shirts so that the mentally incompetent don’t give him MRSA. I am a hundred things . . . but not a one of them is savior.
When they find out about me, the letdown will be of epic proportions. Biblical . . . literally. I cross my arms around my glowing body. I’m really starting to get cold. And, even though my body is not shivering, I’m most certainly feeling it. It’s like I’m freezing to death, without the shakes. What the hell is happening to me?
“You have to go and meet everyone,” Thomas said, “. . . at the church.”
Where is that? I ask him. Does this place have road signs? A map? Something I can follow?
“Oh,” he said, “it’s too far from here. We won’t make it by nightfall.”
You mean it gets darker? I said. Darker than this?
He had a nervous smile on his face—one of those smiles where your mouth curves upwards, but your eyes aren’t smiling at all. And it faded quickly as he spoke, “. . . I know that you will figure all of this out, John, but until you do . . . you need to be very careful what you do and where you go. You don’t have much time.”
I told him that I already knew about the spooks and the Gatherers.
“Oh,” Thomas said quietly, “. . . I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the real dangers of Deadside. You need to avoid the spies. They’re everywhere.”
Doesn’t that make them difficult to avoid? I asked.
“You just need to stay with one of us. One of the believers.”
My back was aching I was so cold, and I could barely feel my hands and feet anymore. I looked at Thomas, my new dead tour guide.
“There’s an old movie theater, it’s on a highway road called Northwest.”
Northwest Highway, I repeated. Yeah, I know that road.
“Where it crosses the thirty-five highway.”
I knew what he was talking about. There’s an AMC Theater, with like 30 different screens and tubs of popcorn as big as a trash dumpster. Ricky took me there to see the new Jason Bourne movie.
Out loud I tell him that I know of this place. “When,” I ask, “should I be there?”
“Tonight, at precisely sunset,” he said glancing over at the building where the green sun was hovering. “She will meet you there. She will explain everything.”
“She who?” I asked him.
“The girl who came to you . . . Kristen.”
“Alright,” I said. “What now?”
“You must return. Your time here is limited.” He glanced around, his eyes darting nervously, “. . . they’ll be along soon. And we don’t want to be here when they come.”
“They as in the Screamers?” I said.
He nods his head. “You have to go, now. It has been my honor to meet you, John. Save us. Save us, all.” And then he backs away from me, turns and runs as if his life depends on it.
For a moment I just stand there thinking of everything that just happened, and the sheer weight of all of it. But then that little voice in my head—the one that tells me not to piss on electrical outlets—it instructs me to run. Because, as a general rule, when somebody near you shags-ass like it’s the end of the world . . . your best bet is to do the same.
In less than a minute I was bursting through the door of Ms. Josephine’s Shop. “It’s me,” I say between breaths. “I’m back!”
She instructs me to go back to my body, and her words sound worried and frantic. Something is going on. And I don’t need to hear anything else. I know if I stay here any longer I am either going to be attacked by some horrible thing, or frozen too much to move.
I figure that I have to crawl back in through the tear in my chest, so that’s what I do, and the second I get my head inside, I feel my body sucked in behind me. It’s like I’ve been shoved into me.
And then there’s a bright flash, a loud thumping sound to add to the intense humming, and I open my eyes to Ricky jabbing an IV needle into my arm.
And I’m way beyond shivering cold.
It’s hard to breathe and I can’t talk. All I can manage is to moan, breathing desperately through my clenched teeth.
“Stay with me, Jack!”