kind of bird is that?" Alex asked. She pointed to the great
white shadow circling over the grey church.
like an albatross," Chris said.
put his arm around Alex's waist and pulled her closer. She didn't
resist, but she did tense. His skin felt like a damp sweater, and
smelled the same. All around them, the congregation shuffled toward
the church, a teeming mass of brown and dull white flickering in
the half-light of a dying sun. The church's cold shadow crawled
out across the small, fenced cemetery that lay beside it. The smell
of incense and wax wafted through the great oak doors and into the
of morning commerce danced in the cool air behind them. Vendors
pushed their carts out into the town square, great heated wagons
with salted meats and herbs, roasted nuts and cherry sodas. Neon
signs shuddered on down the street, a parade of flash and longing,
letting the town know it was free to peruse the aisles for fancy
shoes and breath mints once more.
Fools!" an old voice cried out. It was like sand sifting on
stared straight ahead to the church, tugging at Alex's hand. Alex
looked over her shoulder. She saw the old woman screeching at the
mass. The same, lone hag, who heckled them from the ancient stone
cemetery, every Sunday, every week.
coat was a little dirtier, a little more torn. Rosemary beads clacked
together beneath the great wobbling goiter hanging from her mole
speckled neck. Her cloudy eyes flared beneath bushy white brows,
they themselves shrouded by a moldy wool hood. A great purple goiter
wobbled beneath her neck as she shouted.
walkers! There is no God waiting in your temple! Look into your
hearts and find the true Lord!" the old woman cried. The shouts
came in short bursts, before collapsing into fits of chest wracking
that crazy bitch," Chris said without looking back. "Every
god damned service she's out there, busting our chops. You'd think
the old bat would come inside and try worshiping for once, instead
of bothering us all the time."
foot bumped into a bottle, hidden in the grass beside the gravel
path. It clattered across the rocks.
you'd think people would have more respect around a place of worship,"
Chris said. He reached down to pick up the bottle. He stared at
it for a moment as the crowd brushed past, then hurled it into the
woods beside the street. The sound of it shattering was drowned
out by the old woman shouting again.
wonder why she doesn't come in," Alex said.
her. Mother Terry is about to start," Chris said. "I don't
want to miss her sermon again."
young couple crossed the threshold, into the serene, dark church.
The doors swung shut. A final click signaled that the lock was thrown,
the outside cut off. The lack of wind and steady breath made the
church as silent, cool, and calm as a tomb.
the old woman stopped yelling and slowly sat down upon a moss covered
gravestone. She lit a cigarette and hung her head while the traffic
Alex and Chris took their pews and began to pray. The church pews
were arranged in a circle, with Mother Terry sitting in a chipped
ivory seat at the center. Little wisps of moss crept through the
cracks in the church floor and stretched up the sides of the ivory
they sat, Mother Terry stood up in the center of the church. Purple
and red light cascaded through the stained glass, creating deep
pools of shadow under the sharp angles of her face. She wore a red
robe, with gold trim and a deep hood that she let hang down her
back. Her grey hair was tied back tight, like weeds trampled against
cracked clay. Her white eyes peered out from the depths of their
sockets like twin owls.
Lord above us, who has seen fit to grant us your most divine gift,"
Mother Terry began. The circular seating around her rang out with
the solemn chorus of fifty men and women, repeating each line with
her. "Thou who hath chosen to grant us a second life, a second
chance to fulfill your great purpose... Thou who hath delivered
us from the soil, and the worms, to revel in your glory yet again
We thank thee for your many blessings, but still ask for a sign.
What work would you have us do, now that we are strapped to this
Earth without end, waiting our reward in your Heavenly Kingdom?"
sat silently while Chris dutifully chanted along. He turned to look
at her, his one good eye glinting in the glow of a thousand candles
that flickered across the stained glass windows.
wrong?" Chris whispered.
just feel weird, being on this side," Alex whispered, lowering
her head and turning away from the sea of grey faces that filled
the pews. "You said we'd sit on the other side this time. I
belong over there."
nodded toward the other side of the circle, to Mother Terry's right.
There the faces were rich pinks, healthy browns, where the eyes
held souls, and where the sound of breathing created a noticeably
you belong over here with me," Chris said.
not right though, I'm not dead yet," Alex whispered.
your kind wouldn't react so well if I sat on their side," Chris
hissed. "At least you're accepted over here. You said you would
stick by me."
did, and I am," Alex said. "I like that Mother Terry accepts
both kinds, but it's just so awkward to be split like this. It makes
me think about how you and I"
you mind keeping it down," a man next to Alex whispered. The
skin around his lips had peeled away, leaving his teeth permanently
exposed in a grimace. His blonde hair hung from his scalp in clumps.
A great scar crossed his neck, where his throat was stitched shut.
Alex stared at it, as if it were a huge centipede.
there a problem?" the man asked.
you're going to be so noisy, go sit with the breathers," the
man said, turning away to resume his chant. "Try showing a
ceased watching from the corner of his good eye, and turned to the
start showing respect, or I'll take care of you outside," he
said. Alex slunk down between them.
laughed in Chris's face, shaking the concentration of those around
them. Chris let it go, but Alex saw the tension in his knotty dried
muscles, clenched beneath his skin like an old rope in a dirty plastic
sermon went on without disturbance. Mother Terry led the congregation
in questioning, but accepting, the glorious new world God had delivered
them. At the closing, living and dead alike lined up to receive
bread and wine from Mother Terry, before switching sides of the
church, the dead sitting where the living had, and living where
the dead had. Once all were seated, Mother Terry closed the morning
the same as she had every week.
there are any among the living who wish to cross the threshold,
please rise now."
sat silently, waiting to see if any of the warm bodies would stand
up and request an early transition. Chris looked at Alex, but she
was just staring ahead with all the others.
so once more, the sermon ended in an uneasy silence, as those alive
claimed to accept their dead brothers, yet quietly declined a chance
to join their ranks.
know, Alex, there are a lot of advantages to being dead," Chris
said as they milled out into the open air. "In fact, I'm starting
to really wonder if saying 'dead' is the right word."
know, I know," Alex said. "But don't you miss anything?
Doesn't everything feel different?"
everything's muted," Chris said, looking down at the mass of
shuffling feet. "But it's only like that because I can still
remember what being alive felt like. My dad told me that once you're
dead for a few years, you can't even remember anymore, so it becomes
normal. And breathing is such a pain in the ass. Trust me, you'll
be surprised by how much effort it really took."
grabbed Chris' clammy hand and pulled him out of the crowd, stopping
behind a large tree in front of the church. The living and dead
moved on to join the rest of the town for daily life.
not ready yet," Alex said.
hear me out," Chris said. "It's not so bad. Hell, it's
better. Seriously. Next week, you really should go for an early
mean kill myself," Alex said. She looked away. "You know
that's a sin in the eyes of
reached out and cupped her chin softly, gently guiding her face
back to his. "I won't let you commit a sin," he said.
"Don't worry, babe. I'll take care of it for you. We can do
it very quick, no pain. And best of all, we can transition you without
any real damage."
of it this way, babe," Chris said. "We're in love, right?"
she said. A smile crept across her downcast face. She nestled in
close to Chris, relaxing enough to feel the familiar shape of his
arms wrapped around her back.
it going to be like if you don't die for another twenty or thirty
years? What if you're old by the time you bite it? How are you going
to feel when I'm still running around looking like I'm eighteen,
and you're all haggard and wrinkled like her?"
looked at him in puzzlement, then turned around to see that Chris
was talking about the old woman in the cemetery, who was watching
them through the tangle of dead tree limbs and sinking tombstones.
She sucked on her cigarette slowly.
a good point," Alex said, giving a small laugh. "But we
have to talk about this later. I have to take over at the video
store in a half hour and I want to eat something first."
no, we're going to finish this talk all the way this time,"
Chris said, cupping her arm. "Look, I know it's scary. No one's
figured out why we're all coming back, but that's really not such
a bad thing, right? Who cares? We don't know why we're born in the
first place. The important thing is that we're still together. And
everyone is coming back. Everyone. So that must make it ok. Just
imagine, all the fear and uncertainty of when you're going to die
could just go away. You can take control. No fear of a car accident,
or getting shot, or a wasting away from cancer. And best of all,
we could do it very controlled, with poison or something. I mean,
seriously, what if you end up getting shot in the face, or hit by
a train or eaten by a shark or something? What if you have to come
back as one of the Incompletes?"
know, Chris. I've heard all this before," Alex said. "It
makes sense but I don't see the point in rushing it, if it's going
to happen anyway."
only be dead for about a minute," Chris said. "There's
never been a case of someone staying down for more than two minutes,
tops. Seriously. And don't even worry about whatever happens in
that minute. Nobody's ever remembered, so you don't have to be scared
about that. I'm telling you, it's"
not to the temptations of evil and the weakness of fear!" the
old woman growled. She slid off the tombstone and hobbled out of
the cemetery, toward the young couple. "Cast him out now while
you can, girl!"
need shut the hell up and mind your own business," Chris said.
"No one asked you to butt in."
has rejected you!" the old woman said. Thick clouds of smoke
puffed out between her blistered lips and trailed behind her. "All
of you! It is the hour of judgment, and God has rejected you! He
rejects you because you don't truly love him in your hearts!"
crowd had almost completely dispersed by then, and only a handful
of stragglers stood in the shade beneath the trees at the edge of
the town square. Few turned to look at the woman.
total bullshit," Chris said. He pulled Alex against his chest
just came out of church," Alex said. "How can you say
we don't believe in God?"
didn't question your belief in him. I said you didn't love him!"
the woman said. She began hacking again, doubled over with her hands
on her knees.
go bother someone else," Chris said. "We're having a serious
believe how serious it is," the woman said. Her eyes rolled
up to stare at him. "You're asking this girl to throw herself
into Hell with you."
getting really sick of this!" Chris shouted. He let go of Alex,
who stumbled back. Chris pointed his dry finger in the woman's face.
"Get the Hell out of here! I'm warning you!"
relax, babe," Alex said putting her hands on his shoulders.
shook her off.
I'm not going to stand for this old loon having the nerve to tell
me my life is Hell, or that I'm trying to hurt you, or that God
doesn't love us!" Chris shouted.
be wise not to hassle those who've managed to live so long,"
a familiar voice said from behind them. It was soft, and measured,
each word carefully considered and measured against the others.
and Chris turned to see Mother Terry standing before them, her hands
clasped gently before her, the sun casting a warm glow around her
Terry," Chris said. "I'm sorry I was shouting in front
of the church, but this woman is"
Chris, isn't it?" Mother Terry said.
took a step back. Something caught her eye. Something grand and
white perched atop the roof's cross. It was the albatross, with
great white wings tipped in black. It arched its back and spread
it's wings, taking to the air and catching the nearby sea breeze.
Back and forth, it traced a wide path in the sky over them.
in the bird's flight, Alex envied the view it must have, gliding
peacefully over the trees, out over the town square, through the
market district, to the wharf, and then out to the sea. She thought
of how the edge of the sea only looked so beautiful from the shore.
If she were to follow the albatross out into the blue, she'd find
only nothing, a vast expanse all around, longing for the shore once
albatross drifted out of view. Alex slowly sunk back to reality
and the argument before the great stone steps of the church.
come here to find peace and understanding, but she's always out
here attacking us!" Chris said. His arm was stretched out,
pointing at the old woman, who was leaning against the cemetery
fence. She lit another cigarette, resting her chin on her swollen
can you expect her to understand our gift if we ourselves have such
trouble understanding it?" Mother Terry said. She reached her
bony hand out and rested it on Chris's forehead. "You know
that fear can be a powerful motivator. It is fear that keeps her
out here. Think of how afraid she must be of death, knowing she'll
find no rest. She's damned to that old and withered form, until
God decides to let us into his grace once more."
looked at the old woman who was calmly smoking another cigarette
while openly glaring at the other three.
worry about me. I'll be fine," the old woman grunted.
home Chris, and take young Alex with you," Mother Terry said,
placing her other bony hand in the small of Alex's back and gently
pushing them together. "I know how troubled you must be, trying
to find your way in a newly divided world. It won't be that way
for long, my children. When you've made your choice, come speak
to me, and I will help."
Terry turned away, closing the great oak doors of the church behind
her. When the couple turned back to face the town, the old woman
was already halfway back to her perch in the cemetery, lumbering
along at her own pace.
shadow flittered across the gravel path. Alex looked up to see the
Albatross above once more.
think that damned thing would head back out to sea," Chris
it's afraid," Alex said. "Think of what it must be like,
full of all those dead whales, and fish, still swimming around.
Think of what it must smell like."
anyway, Mother Terry's right. We can't let that old bat's fear influence
us," Chris said.
be great, I'm telling you. Eating is still nice, but you don't have
to base your whole day around it. Everything is slower, more relaxed.
And we'll finally be able to
you know, do it again. Legally."
that's true," Alex said.
me, you'll like it again when we're both cold," Chris said.
"You really do grow to like it, just like it's still nice for
you to be warm."
betrayer! Seducer of darkness! Let that girl go before you damn
both your souls!" the old suddenly woman screamed from the
tensed up again, and for a moment Alex saw life pulsing in him once
more. But she held on to him, trying to drag him on, into the marketplace.
it go, Chris," she said.
the hell with this. I'm not going to let her spoil every Sunday
walk for us," Chris said. He wrenched himself free of Alex's
hold and marched toward the cemetery.
old woman continued to jeer and taunt him as he got closer. His
pace quickened, and he saw the reflection of the albatross floating
overhead in a brown bottle, lying with its brothers in the yellow
grass beside the rusted cemetery fence. Chris snatched it up, letting
the old beer drip down onto his shoes as he stepped past the gate.
talking, you old bitch, keep talking," he said.
stop! What are you doing? Mother Terry!" Alex cried out, the
panic overrunning her voice and alarming the small crowd around
has rejected you just as you have rejected Him!" the old woman
smashed the bottle against a gravestone, hanging on to the jagged
remains. The old woman was still spewing her words defiantly as
Chris raised the broken bottle into the air. He plunged it directly
into the giant goiter that hung from her throat. Only the faintest
whisper of pain escaped her lips as he twisted it, then struck the
end with his palm. He left it resting there as she slumped off the
tombstone and into the grass.
turned around slowly, triumphantly. A small crowd of living and
dead had formed around the rusty graveyard fence, watching in silent
awe. Alex was biting her hand, her eyes swollen and red.
why did you do that?"
nothing," Chris said. "She's going to get up in a minute,
just like everyone else. Then she'll see that we're right. She'll
have to leave us alone. Just watch."
was a murmur in the crowd, as rotted faces turned toward pristine
ones to exchange curious glances.
going on about how we're evil and damned," Chris said. "What
the hell was wrong with her? How could she really think that everyone
in the world is so bad? Jesus
crowd waited, and they watched. The sounds of daily life wafted
over them, and the scent of fried meat and candy danced around the
faces of living and dead. The traffic continued to creep by slowly,
the odd horn calling out to break the steady rhythm of life. Wind
spun through the cemetery, making the leaves dance and fall around
Chris, as he continued to stand at the old woman's side, waiting
for her rise.
faces looked down to check their watches. A murmur began to ripple
through the audience.
stepped into the graveyard and stood at arms' length from Chris.
He was not looking at her. His one good eye was fixed on the silent,
grey lump as the wind danced over her wool coat and grey hair. Alex
expected to see Mother Terry, standing in the open door of the church,
watching from the steps. And she looked up through the trees, expecting
to see the albatross overhead, waiting to meet the wind and glide
across the grey sky.
the church doors were closed, and the sky was empty. She turned
to Chris, who was still watching the body, biting his lip, waiting.