Wednesday afternoon . . .
Ricky says I should carb-load, so we’re eating a mixture of frozen pizza, iced milk, and Taco Bell—which they may actually have in Deadside. The idea is that my body needs all kinds of things it can burn, while I’m in the process of freezing to death. And sugar—in the form of simple or complex carbohydrates—is the best source for this.
So, we’re approaching my death from a nutritionally healthy angle. Ricky spooks me by saying that our hair still grows even after we’re dead. Something to do with the hair follicles not knowing the rest of the body is dead while the moisture shrinks your skin.
“They debunked that on Myth-Busters,” Ricky.
“I’ve seen it happen, dude.”
When I ask him how this helps me, he just shrugs and chomps off another bite of pizza.
Ricky and I took Ms. Josephine’s advice and went back through the Book of Sighs, again. We’ve read every page in the book. But there was one itsy-bitsy little problem. In the back of the book, it seemed as if a couple of pages might have been removed. Torn or cut out, so close to the binding that you had to really squint to see.
Neither of us know how important, or not, those pages were. But one thing I know from reading Todd Steele novels is that the last couple of pages change everything. All the twists and turns, the peaks and valleys—they’re all solved in those last two or three pages. And this leaves me more than a bit suspicious.
Ricky points out that I can just ask the people on the Deadside what was in the back of the book. He figures it’s just a bunch of religious scripture and rhetoric anyway. I sure hope he’s right.
Ms. Josephine will be over in a few minutes to help us get ready. I’m not really sure what’s going to happen on this visit, and don’t know if I need to be in save-the-world mode, or compassionate-paying-attention mode. I hope I don’t have to wield a sword, or anything overly heroic like that. I don’t know anything about fighting, and the thought of getting my ass kicked in another dimension does not please me. It seems, however, to amuse the crap out of Ricky.
“Just think, Jack,” Ricky says between laughter, “. . . some little monsters might beat you down, and then tie you up, rub pig shit in your hair, or whatever monsters do for a laugh. Oh, man, that would be funny.”
“You’re a bad wingman,” I tell him. “You’re supposed to be giving me all sorts of advice that I can turn to when there are no other options. Wisdom. You’re a genius, not me. I’m just unluckily half-dead.”
“Okay, okay,” he says. “Look, the only thing my dad ever taught me about fighting is that all creatures, big and small, animal or otherwise, they have testicles. And if you smash them with sufficient force, they will drop like a sack of potatoes. That and the head butt.”
“So, Ricky’s advice for the netherworld is to . . . kick ’em in the nuts?” I ask. “That’s it?”
Ricky sat back with a look of pride and satisfaction on his face. Like he just explained quantum physics to me. Like he just worked out all of my life’s problems in one fowl swoop.
I ask him if there are any ‘medical’ tips he can give me. What I should or shouldn’t do that might affect my chances back here for staying alive.
He considers my question. “Not that this would ever come up, but,” he chose his words carefully, “. . . I would frown on you having sex while you’re over there.”
“Sex? What are you talking . . . oh.”
He raised his eyebrows, almost accusingly, at me. “The girl. You. Nice quiet dark place. Nobody around. Some old feelings begin to—”
“Okay, Ricky. I see where you’re going with this. I’m not going to have sex with a dead girl,” I tell him. And, up until that point I hadn’t even considered it. I’m way to shy, anyway. I mean, technically I’m a virgin. And saviors aren’t allowed to go around knocking-up the local populous. What kind of saint sleeps with a dead girl?
“Just for argument’s sake,” I ask him, “. . . why not?”
“Oh my god, dude!” he says, seemingly disgusted by my question, “. . . you were thinking about it.”
“No, I wasn’t! I’m just . . . you made me curious, that’s all. Why no sex?”
His mouth is stuck in a big ‘O’ as he figures out his theories. “Well, for a couple of reasons. One is that there’s a chance of contracting some kind of disease. I mean, she is dead, and all that. Sure, sure, she looks good, compared with other dead people, but . . . you know, she’s not of the living. And there’s all kinds of diseases and pathogens you might contract.”
“Undead herpes and stuff?”
He nods, “And two,” he says steepling his hands in front of him, “is that you might suddenly die. Or at least, your Earth body might die, leaving you stuck over there. See, during intimacy . . .”
I’m going to get the birds and the bees speech given to me by a 22-year-old stoner. I am the laughing stock of the cosmos.
“. . . You share part of yourself with a woman . . .”
This is the ugly side of sainthood.
“. . . and as you’re, uh, becoming one with her, so-to-speak . . .”
This is my punishment. My torture.
“. . . at that moment of climax, a part of you is forever connected to her. It’s like, at that exact second where you and she are coming, there’s this bond between you. And it’s forever.”
I’m astonished. “Ricky,” I say delicately, “I think that is the first time you’ve ever said anything beautiful. Really.” I ask him, “How is it that you know about this sexual bond?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he says as he takes a swig of milk, a white mustache sitting over his top lip. “There isn’t a single chick that I’ve ever banged in the past that I can’t go back and bang right now. Like with my ex-girlfriend, doesn’t matter if she’s married, or pregnant, even. I could still get some of that.”
The beautiful thing that Ricky had been describing like a wonderful sensual flower, its petals are now burning to ash. “That’s romantic,” I say.
“I didn’t say it was romantic, I just said that’s the way things work. When a chick gets attached to you, even for that infinitesimally small moment during orgasm . . . that’s it. You two are connected forever.”
“Any more pearls of wisdom?” I ask him.
“Try not to get eaten by those birds, they sound nasty. Oh,” he adds, “and don’t eat anything. Better not to risk it. Those dead, they probably have a different palette than you and I.”
And then I point down at the frozen pizza and the empty pieces of tissue paper with Taco Bell stamped about a thousand times on each one.
“Good point,” he concedes. “If we can eat this shit, there’s probably nothing on the Deadside that could even give you a stomach ache.”
Ricky sat up, grabbed a napkin and wiped-off his mustache. He lifted his wrist and checked the time. His eyebrows raised.
It was getting to be that time. I glanced out across my living room, to my glass sliding door where I could see half of the sun retreating to the western side of the Earth. The light outside was becoming redder—which Ricky tells me is the Doppler effect of red-shifted light waves, elongated by the far angle of the sun in relation to us.
For science questions, Ricky is good. For affairs of the heart, not so much.
I sigh, “it’s about that time, isn’t it?”
Ricky nods, “We need to get you juiced-up.” That’s his cute little way of saying jab a 16-gauge catheter in my arm and forcibly hydrate my body with saline goo. I feel like a pin cushion. I have become the lab rat after all. Maybe I’m not slobbering, wearing pajamas, and being studied by a bunch of nameless doctors, but I’m the test dummy all the same.
I hear a knock at the door. That’s Ms. Josephine.
Ricky crossed the dirty kitchen and opened the door, but it wasn’t Ms. Josephine. It was a guy in a cheap suit, with a half crown of grey hair that circled his tanned head. He had one of those mustaches that people in the seventies had. And he should give it back.
He introduces himself, “Hi, I’m Detective Gonzalez, I’m with the Dallas Police Department.”
Oh, shit! This is about Rupert. This is not good. They’ll be on to us for sure, now. And I can’t be tortured, not tonight. I have to cross over. I have to tell the dead souls that I’m going to save them all. A police line-up is going to ruin everything.
“I’m doing a report on James, ah,” he looks down at a small note pad, “. . . James Mathis. He works for Dallas County Services.”
That’s not Rupert.
“Seems he got attacked by one of the, what do you call yourselves? Patients?”
Ricky smiled, “Oh, the dude who got bit by the retard on the third floor?”
The detective smiles, “That’s the guy. Anyway, I’m just following up on it. Seems he’s pressing assault charges, trying to sue the city. Normally, some weirdo bites a guy, the black-n-whites that patrol will do the report. But, since it involves an alleged assault, and the guy’s asking for a bunch of cash, they stuck me with it. My luck, huh?”
“Well,” Ricky says, “. . . we only heard the rumors floating around.” Then Ricky kind of pushes his hip out and rests his palm on his side, the elbow cocked in that ambiguously gay way, and he says, “What about you Sssssteven? You hear anything saucy?” And Ricky, he’s talking with a pronounced lisp. Liberace would call him effeminate. Elton John would call him a fag.
“Uh, no,” I answer.
Ricky waves his limp wrist at me.
The detective laughs to himself as he scribbles some notes down. “Alright . . . fellas,” he glances up briefly, “. . . if you hear anything, just give me a call.” And he delicately hands Ricky one of his business cards as if he’s handling plutonium. As if he might catch something if their fingers were to accidentally touch, even minutely.
Ricky grabs the card and smiles, like a big old drag queen, at the detective. And that cop, he takes no time in getting along to the next door.
Once he’s gone I ask, “What . . . in the hell are you doing?”
Ricky explains to me that police, especially any of those old school cops, they hate homosexuals. Most of them are uptight and religious. So, if you ever want them to leave, you just act like your a bit light in the loafers and they’ll shag ass. He says you can get out of speeding tickets, airport security checks, all sorts of body searches. And I already don’t want to hear any more.
Before Ricky gets the door closed, Ms. Josephine waddles-up and stands in the threshold. “‘Ow are my two mislead children doin’ dis evenin’?”
Ricky’s hand falls away from his hip, as he straightens his posture.
She looks him up and down, a slight grin forming, “Ricky, is dere somethin’ you want to tell us?”
But before he could answer, she walks past him. I consider telling her about the detective, but we’re pressed for time. “I need to paint you up, again,” she says as she lifts her heavy magical purse up to the bed.
Great. The blood of untold insects and animals, large needles in my arm, heating blankets, soothing words, experimental oxygen-starving drugs, and drowning. This is my unlikely sainthood.
“Alright,” I say, “. . . let’s kill me.”