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June 17, 2024

After Life 13

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Thirteen: Thinking Things Through ... a Little

That had been the year they had moved.

Her father had accepted a promotion that had sent them off to Thornton, a beautiful little town with a lovely church that was not at all Catholic. Her Dad's work schedule simply didn't justify them driving the forty-five minutes to Bismarck where they might have attended Mass.

Sheldon had been two.

Shelly! I'd forgotten you, too! Sorry, old Shellibean, being dead is more distracting than anyone ever told me. Especially when you've been violently, unexpectedly, totally unjustifiably made dead.

Her parents continued to go through some of the motions of religion, teaching Sheldon the Sign of the Cross before bedtime, Roj nearby, kneeling and gloating that she knew it already, the spiritual significance having faded in sibling rivalry with a totally cute and parent-absorbing baby brother.

Roj remembered her brother, newly brought home from the hospital with her mother. What she had not seen as a child was brought to her mind now, her mother's glowing pride and accomplishment of giving birth to such a beautiful creation, the perfection of his tiny red body, radiating surprise and dismay about his unexpected and icy cold world.

Little Shellibean! Roj wished she could go back in time and cuddle him close to her chest, reassuring him with her heartbeat as her mother had done. His infant helplessness, his need for warmth and comfort, his seeking of nurture were overwhelming. She wanted to wrap around him like a blanket. As a child, she hadn't understood the sweetness of new life, but now ... now too late ...

"Roj, what are you looking at?" Desai interrupted.

"I was ... remembering my brother when he was a new baby and thinking how cute he was, how I didn't know it at the time. Wish I could have seen him as I remember him now."

"Sheldon is not what you should be looking at. You're supposed to be seeking understanding of the Voices that undermined your perception of Life. You cannot go back in time, and having regrets about what has been is pointless and damaging."

Wanting to say swear words, but not wanting Desai to leave her alone again, Roj went back to her thoughts about the year her parents had moved to Thornton. They went to the one big church in town on a Sunday soon after they had moved there. Roj remembered holding her father's hand and walking up the wide steps in front of the church. They were dressed in their best outfits, her hair in braids, Sheldon's plastered against his head to damply keep it from standing straight up. Her father had an uneasiness about him that she hadn't realized as a little girl.

There was, softly, gently, comfortingly, a breeze that was not a breeze, that barely sighed with its odorous breath, Better than no church at all ... Her mother turned to her father, looking up at him wistfully. "Well, it's better than no church at all."

"NO!" Roj shouted, turning to Desai in disgust and anguish. "It was one of them! It whispered to my mother!"

"Your mother was not exempt from such things, nor your father. No human is. Each must make his or her own choices."

"I can't do this, oh, it was my mother! My mother!" Roj snarled at the mess on the floor in Personnel and dropped down through the floor to Garrison's office, where she threw an absolute tantrum, turning his chairs upside down and emptying the contents of his top office drawer (which he had put in order) into his toilet, defiling it again. She threw the drawer across the room so hard that it chipped the hardwood wainscoting.

In fury, Roj looked at the clock. Four thirty in the morning. She launched herself out through the window glass, shrieking like a banshee.

In the darkness, she swooped along the nearly empty streets, flying fast, driven by her anger, drawn by her determination to the men who had killed her, who had come to kill Matt, those men who were somehow allies of the Voices who had sibilantly insinuated their words to her, and to her mother. There's one of them! She screamed, sailing up through the night three stories into a darkened parking garage. She had recognized the scent of him instantly, and saw him as he took a bag from a seedy-looking woman and kicked her to the ground.

"You promised me seven hundred," the woman wailed. "You promised!"

"Dirty whore-woman, you get two hundred or I shoot your titties off. You never have to worry about breast cancer, ain't you lucky, bitchie? Lucky either way."

He began to pull his gun out of his concealed holster. Roj came before him and slapped his face as hard as she could with both hands, while hooking a foot around the back of one of his ankles. He went down with a hard impact, his revolver firing under his arm into the cement.

A horde of pigeons, startled by the gunshot, flew out of the supports of the parking garage, fluttering loudly in the darkness before they flapped off into the night seeking other sanctuary. The thin and diseased woman took the opportunity to bolt, which was wise, because Roj could sense the man had intended to kill her if she didn't cooperate.

"What the hell?" the man shouted, scrambling to his feet. He pulled the gun out, and pointed it at the woman running through the near-dark down the slope of the garage.

Roj grabbed his arm, ruining his aim.

A voice beside him hissed, "Kill her!"

She laughed. "That thing that tells you what to do, it's so ignorant it doesn't even know who I am." Rage giving her an intense presence, she kicked him in the groin.

As he doubled over and fell to his knees, she examined the bag. A ball of meth nuggets filled it. "Oh, this is a nummy little lunch, isn't it?"

"Who are you, bitch?"

"What? You can see me? Hear me? Let's go, Gunman. Follow the leader." She ran to the far side of the Yukon SUV that was parked against the wall, illegally, as the parking garage was closed for the night. Over its hood she could see the lights of the city, sparkling in the rain-cleansed air.

The man ran painfully around the vehicle, weapon drawn. But Roj had already bounded to the roof of it. The man fired four times in rapid succession. Roj jumped down on the other side. "Bang!" she shouted at him. "Bang, bang, bang! Oh, you're good for the ammunition industry, bet you give them lots of business with your missed slugs, you stupid little clown."

He cursed and vaulted onto the hood of the car, holding his gun with two hands to steady his aim.

Roj leaped to the roof of the Yukon again, this time making no attempt to avoid him. "See me?" she shouted.

The man leveled his firearm and shot. And again. Again. As Roj was unaffected, his expression morphed from anger to incomprehension, and then to fear. He emptied the pistol, firing over and over. When it had no effect, he began to back up. His left heel slipped in some fresh pigeon dropings, he lost his footing, his thighs hit the wall, and he fell over the side of the building.

Roj leaned over the wall and observed the broken body on the sidewalk below. "That wasn't my intention," she said aloud.

"No, it wasn't. This is true," Desai answered her. "Had he not been so deeply enamored of blood lust, he would have fled ... or he would not have been in this drug-selling business in the first place."

"You got friends in the pigeon industry?" Roj asked him.

"This is not something that you need to know."

"Right." Roj sat down on the roof of the SUV. "Are those Voices everywhere?"

"They try to be. They are wherever they are invited, and sometimes even where they are not."

"But my mom -- she was trying to do the right thing, going to church even if it wasn't a Catholic church."

Desai said nothing.

Again Roj let herself drift into memory, of the strange church in Thornton, that was supposed to be better than no church at all.

Two weeks after they had begun attending the ten o'clock service, an usher had suggested that Roj attend the Sunday school apart from the main service, specially designed for children her age, smiling convivially all the while. Roj had followed a woman to the basement of the church, where a crowd of children chattered and plied crayons and pasted pictures to pieces of paper. It had looked like a lot more fun than sitting and listening to the preacher talk.

"All right, children," said a stout woman with gray curly hair and red cheeks. "Let's begin with our prayers." Confidence radiated from her with sparkles.

Automatically, Roj had begun to make the Sign of the Cross, but before she could fold her hands again afterwards, a woman nearby had grabbed her right hand. A thing the color of dirty sand with blurry lips and no eyes had whispered inaudibly into the woman's ears, though Roj had not seen it back then. "Oh, no, honey," the woman had said, "we don't do that here, ever. You don't do that before you pray, it's not right."

Humiliated, Roj had heard nothing of the following prayers or lesson. She had just been told that her parents had taught her something bad, and she could not fathom how that could be so.

"There was a thing behind that woman, saying something to her," Roj told Desai.

"Yes. It was a spirit of Division, which seeks to defeat believers by making them feel they are at odds with one another."

"I told Mom and Dad about that woman telling me not to make the Sign of the Cross. They were unhappy, and we never went there again.

"That's it, isn't it, the wedge we gave to the Voices that pushed us farther and farther from church."

"Is it?"

"I don't remember anything other than that."

"Very well."

After some silence, Roj poked the bag with the lumps of meth in it. "What am I supposed to do with this? It's so damned poisonous you shouldn't even flush it down the commode. If I leave it here, someone will find it and just sell it for more ill-gotten gains. This stuff is death on the hoof, for user or seller or anyone who has to deal with it."

"I don't know. You worry about a lot of things."

"And you worry about nothing, because you see all that was, and you don't give much of a hang about the things that will be. I look at this shit, and all I see is misery coming from it. Addiction. Crime. Robbery. This is like some kind of fungus that just infects everyone it touches, and that's all bad. You don't seem to care about that. I'm not you, Desai. I don't understand you, and I don't think I want to be like you."

"That is a good thing, because you can't be like me."

"Thank God."

"I do."

Roj picked up the bag and flew back to the precinct, to stash the bag under an air conditioning unit on the roof. She wondered if anyone would have seen the bag flying through the air above the roofs of Modesto, and if they would report it as a UFO.

She was in plenty of time to watch the arrival of the Personnel Hens and their discovery of Danny's file scattered across the floor and the left-on computer, along with their huddled conference about haunts and what to do about it and whether or not they were in danger remaining on the floor alone with the servers and the vending machines and the archival documents. They didn't even pick Danny's file up off the floor.

And she was mollified to observe Garrison's repeated outrage about the trashing of his office. He was far above fishing his own things out of the toilet bowl, Roj noted, but not above screaming in the face of the security room officer, whose responsibility all the keys to the rooms of the building were. Indeed, she almost pulled a tissue from a nearby box and offered it to the security officer, whose innocent face was spattered by Garrison's vehemence.

Roj floated downstairs to see what Hennessey was up to, which was mostly nothing. He had not found Garrison's wallet under his desk; neither had the janitorial crew, which said a lot for why there were roaches and mice in the building. When Hennessey got up to go to the restroom, Roj spilled his coffee cup into his keyboard of his computer, admiring the way the rivulets of dark liquid spilled out as they overflowed, soiling his paperwork.

Ah, Hennessey. He reeked of wanting nothing more than to eke out the last few years of his job peaceably, and retire, never again to have to confront a thug in a dark alley or have to shoo onlookers away from a bloody accident. He just wanted to get his living money arranged and get out of the rat race. Who could blame him for that?

Watching the brown liquid drip into his top desk drawer, which he had lazily left partway open, Roj heard the Voice that had called to her father, so many, many years before.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-01-22
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
05:19:00 PM
There seems to be a fine line between Good and Evil. I am beginning to doubt Desai and wonder if in this world of Division there is any entity wholly unaffected by the negative orbs of existence.
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