Hail Mary, Mother of Death

As I trek through the jungle, sweat oozing from every pore, I come upon the most macabre relic I’ve ever seen. Carved from a rose-colored marble, the veins in the stone remind me of rivers of blood, and her sanguine smile sends chills down my spine despite the heat. After years of searching, I’ve found her.

I’ve found the Bloody Mary.

It all began with a local legend that piqued my interest when I was on my last dig, a legend of a Catholic artifact that predated the Mayans who had built the ruins in which I now stood. Madre de los Muertos she was called; Mother of the Dead. The legend, which had been translated by my guide and companion, Jesus Rodriguez, told of a curse that accompanied the Virgin Mary and followed any who laid eyes on her.

The curse hadn’t been what intrigued me, though; what really grabbed my attention, the driving force behind the last decade of my life, was the archaeology of it. Madre de los Muertos, if she was as old as legend claimed, should not exist. She was a mystery, an anachronism, a thing out of place and out of time, and now she was mine.

My white whale stares at me with red-veined eyes, her arms outstretched. She is pristine, immaculate, untouched by the encroaching jungle. My pulse quickens at the sight of her, a virgin statue left unmolested for centuries–millennia, if the legend was true. I reach out with a shaking hand, eager to be the first to claim her as my own.

Before my fingers meet the rouge marble, a rustling from the thick network of vines behind me draws my attention. I turn and peer into the foliage in search of what animal may be lurking–or what form of man. My hand stops, retreats, reaches for the pistol tucked into the waistband of my khakis. If someone has followed me in the hopes of stealing my find, I’ll send them to meet the Mother of the Dead in person.

No movement catches my eye, and once again the jungle falls silent.

I return to my treasure, confident that I am alone, and caress her smooth facade. My hands roam over the whole of her, from top to bottom, and I can find no cracks, no chips, not a single flaw in her smooth, delicate features.

Perhaps the legend was a fake; I find it hard to believe that any statue, no matter how well-constructed, could stand the test of time and face the elements and still come out this intact. There should be cracking and crumbling, degradation and decay. The jungle should have taken her beauty centuries ago.

The thought brings me back to reality, and I look again at the vines that surround, but do not touch, the statue. The surrounding ruins are thick with them, every surface covered, save for a meter-wide berth given to Mary. Upon inspection, I see no trace of blade marks on the undergrowth. Odd. I myself had cut a path to the relic. Now the intertwining leaves and vines make a perfect circle, a fence of dead vegetation trapping me within its branches.

I crouch next to the nearest vine and draw my machete across its surface. A thin white scar appears on the branch for a moment, then vanishes.

A more superstitious person may have theorized that the vines regenerated, but I know that can’t be it. How can dead matter regenerate, after all? I wipe sticky sweat from my brow and stand back up. A drink from my canteen does nothing to sate my sudden thirst, leaving me parched.

As I turn back to my prize, I find myself nose-to-nose with Bloody Mary. I try to take a step back, but the vines, though they have not moved, are somehow closer, higher, thicker, preventing me from retreat. My breath quickens as my heart now thumps in my chest. Mary’s arms stretch out to either side of me, and I am left with nowhere to go.

I press my hand against Mary’s breast, trying to push back and give myself room, and my heart skips a beat before my pulse returns to its rapid-fire palpitations.

The stone, so cold and hard, is now soft, warm, pliable. Alive.

Before I can react, Mary’s arms wrap around me and pull me to her. I look into her bloodshot eyes and see my reflection in their gleam. The red-veined marble blinks once, twice, and the smile twists and deforms into a snarl. She embraces me tighter, and the air is forced from my lungs.

I gasp for breath and push against the woman holding me, but she is as strong as the marble she was carved from. My vision tunnels as I’m squeezed ever tighter, and I realize that the Mother of the Dead has claimed me as one of her children.

Glimpses of Freedom

Six months. For six months, Clare sat in the Council Tower penthouse, in a secret room with scant amenities, a prison cell with a four-poster canopy bed. Her only connection to the outside world was the pseudoglass window, which overlooked the city she had once called home.

The Tower was a thing of beauty when viewed from below. Sleek lines of TrueSteel and pseudoglass rose from the ground to disappear into the low-hanging smog that permeated the skies of the city. From above, on clear days, she could see out for miles.

Throngs of people crowded the streets below. People of every size, every shape, every color hustled by. Some stopped to take holophotos of the famed Tower, but she knew they’d never see her in those images. The window, like all in the Tower, was mirrored on the outside.

Her breath left steamy clouds on the pane as she leaned against her window. Sometimes she wrote the names of her lost lovers in the steam and watched as they disappeared from her life again. Breathe. Write. Watch. Cry.

Other times, she allowed herself the luxury of letting her imagination run wild, of picturing herself among the throngs, free from confinement and free to do as she pleased. She traversed the streets with strangers from all walks of life, mingled at parties in the building across the way, perused the shops on the far corner of the only intersection in her line of sight.

She’d never lived in this area of the city. Her upbringing had been humble, quiet, a life lived under the radar because of what she was. Even after the deaths of her mother and stepfather, she tried to adhere to her mother’s teachings, to keep a low profile. Her life was lived in small bars and block parties in the seedy part of town, in places where a single young woman would go unnoticed. She’d never been to the kind of lavish soiree she now watched from her window, but she could imagine.

In her mind, she glided through the crowd of upper-crust Somebodies with a glass of champagne in one hand and a small plate of hors d’oeuvres in the other. She mingled and laughed and conversed, and Eli and Harper were there as well, one on each side, a consort and a courtesan, the two who always ended the evening in her bed, whose warmth kept her safe.

She missed that warmth now. Though the temperature in her room was regulated with the best in thermostatic technology, without Harper and Eli it remained ever cold, always frigid. Goosebumps trailed up and down her arms in the chill.

With a hand on her rigid stomach, she sat in the lone chair and pressed her forehead against the pane. Now she was in the clothier on the corner; she tested the feel of the fabrics: the plush authentic cotton, the sleek NeoSkin, the softest of Truesilk. She tried on pants and corsets and gowns, and her lovers gushed over each outfit.

A glance downward brought her back to reality and reminded her that she wouldn’t fit into a corset again for a while. The baby inside slept while her mother lamented her imprisonment.

Six months without a communique. Six months without word, without knowing if she was remembered fondly or not at all.

In a few months, the baby would be born. Then her captor’s plan would be put into motion. Ezekiel would use her as a brood mare, an incubator, and egg donor for his future child–or children. His grand designs changed from day to day, dependent on how cooperative and compliant Clare behaved. Clare knew she had at least a year before Ezekiel disposed of her–long enough for his heir to be born. If she behaved, maybe a few more.

Until then, Clare had her glimpses of freedom, her gazes out into the city, her imaginary adventures with her lovers.

Los Muertos

It’s been quite a while that I’ve written a story from a prompt here on this blog, so I think it’s high time I dusted off the ol’ cobwebs and gave it a go. I present to you: Los Muertos. Here’s the prompt…

I always had the worst hangovers the day I came back from the dead. The others had it easy; they’d crawl out of their shallow graves, stretch their atrophied arms, and stumble back to work. Me? I felt like I’d been hit by a freight train–again.

Don’t get me wrong. Coming back from the dead isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, once the living learned that death was temporary it became a little easier–they buried us in shallower graves, gave us regeneration healthcare plans, set up halfway living houses–but that doesn’t make it easy by any means. Every single one of us once-dead still has to dig our way out of the dirt, work the kinks out of the rigor, and find our way to safe passage.

It wasn’t always this way. Death used to be seen as permanent. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it. Anything else was seen as either a God-given miracle or a preternatural nightmare.

Then people started coming back en masse. Funerals became too costly to bury the dead quickly, and mortuaries were charging out the nose for expedited cremations. If you couldn’t afford to stay dead, eventually you came back. It takes longer for some than others, but sure as shit if you’re not interred in a timely fashion you’ll be back. The living considered us abominations, and re-kills were pretty common, along with decapitations and bonfires.

The Great Zombie Scare of 2057 finally proved the living wrong.

The backlog at the cemeteries had reached an all-time high by then, and a few people started to twitch. There was your stereotypical moaning and groaning and shambling, yeah–but what do you expect when you’ve been decaying for weeks? I feel kinda sorry for the embalmed back in those days. The practice has gone by the wayside, but they say the you never get the taste out of your mouth…not even several deaths later.

I guess I was never embalmed. The past is a bit fuzzy, though. Neural atrophy and decay and all. It leaves us a little, well, dumb. For a time, that is. I guess that’s why the “zombie” trope stuck around for so long…but c’mon, you try talking in complete sentences when your mind hasn’t regenerated yet, let alone your tongue.

But I digress. I’ve been alive again long enough this time to tell my tale somewhat coherently, so here goes nothing:

The first time I died, I was twenty-seven. That was pretty young to go in those days, but there were extenuating circumstances. Like that freight train I mentioned. You see, I was a little bit tipsy that night. Okay, I was hammered. And it was during the early days, when people didn’t realize that not everyone who was stumbling along in the dark wasn’t un-dead. The conductor decided it was safer to run me over than bother with the brakes.

Maybe that’s why I always feel hung over when I come back. Maybe, like the embalming fluid, that hangover never really goes away.

Dying isn’t as bad the second and third or so time around. By the fourth, you’re sick of it. I’ve died one hundred and fifty-three times now. This hangover can go suck it.

Today I have a job interview with the local Living-Impaired Financial Entity. LIFE centers get us un-dead work when no one else can. Let me tell you, it’s hard as hell to get a job without a right arm. Sure, you can say you’re left-handed until the cows come back from the dead, but unless you can use your remaining toes to make up for the lack of a second hand they really discriminate. I can still type, though. A little slower than a two-handed un-dead, sure, but well enough to find work.

I found an apartment the other day. The landlord was real nice, an un-dead guy himself, and he let me move in without a deposit. The un-dead don’t really need homes, per se, because we don’t need to eat or sleep, but it makes things seem more…normal, I guess. Just like the jobs, having a place to stay gives us a routine and a purpose. Get off the couch. Get dressed. Lock your door. Shamble down the road to the office. Clock in. Do your thing. Then shamble back home and get ready to do it all again in the morning. Un-death is so boring without a job to keep you going.

I gotta admit, I’m kind of nervous about today. It’s not like it’s my first job interview–I’ve lost count of those. But this one’s different. It’s for a living company. Yeah, I know, hard to get my hopes up when I have half a face and no right arm, but maybe–maybe I’ll get hired.

What’s the worst thing about un-death, you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s not the bits and pieces falling off. It’s not the looks you get from the living. It’s not even the hangovers. It’s the loneliness. You see, un-dead can’t procreate. Some of us can’t even–well, you know. Depending on your cause of death, you might not have the, er, equipment necessary for that kind of thing. So relationships are a bitch. What’s the point, right? Can’t start a family unless you want to adopt a bunch of un-dead kids. And kids are the worst. They never really grow up. They kind of just whine and cry for decades. Centuries eventually, I guess. Anyway, not many of us once-living have the patience for that.

Ooh, they’re calling me back now! Wish me luck. If I get this job, I’ll be able to start this un-life off on the right foot.

Well–if I still had a right foot.

The puns don’t get any better after the third or fourth time around, either.