Alone With the Dead: One – Rid of Me

It was always disconcerting to wake up and find yourself killing someone.

cover.jpgWell, it really wasn’t him doing the killing. Gryphon didn’t even know who this man was, even as he saw his fist blacken his other eye. It took him a moment, but as soon as he heard the voice — his, but not his; too deep, and with an accent even he couldn’t identify (but Taneesha had pegged as “South Side Chicago”, and he had no reason to disbelieve her) — he knew what was going on. “Come on, Frank, make me laugh! Beg forgiveness!” the late Officer Stephen Campbell shouted, grabbing his former partner by the throat and hauling him up to his knees.

Steve had taken over his body while he was sleeping. Steve was actually his newest “passenger,” but also his most driven, absolutely obsessed with finding his partner, Officer Frank Morton. From what Steve had told him, and from what he read in the newspapers that Steve had made him comb, Steve was shot and killed while on duty, while Morton killed his assailant. Steve was given a hero’s burial, and Morton gave an especially touching eulogy.

And it was all a lie.

Steve was actually shot and killed by Morton, who simply killed a junkie to frame him for the crime. Morton was on the take from one of the city’s drug barons, and Steve found evidence to that fact, but was mulling over whether to turn him in , as no one wanted to rat out their partner, even if he was crooked. But Morton didn’t trust him, and in the end, decided he was better off dead. He buried the evidence along with Steve, and must have thought the matter over and done with.

It was a shame for him that some things just didn’t stay dead.

When one of them took him over, he always felt like a passenger in his own body, slightly disconnected somehow, like his eyes were deep wells he was looking out of, his skin and bones an insensate suit of armor. He wasn’t in control, and he didn’t know how to reassert it. If it was a talent, it was one he had never learned. But then again, he had never learned how the dead took up residence in him either; that seemed, in retrospect, like one colossal joke.

It was night, and it was raining, although he could see it more than feel it. They were also on a low rooftop, covered with tar paper and gravel, looking out on a construction site on one side and tenements on another, while the high rises of downtown Chicago loomed on the near horizon like steel and neon Christmas trees. It was actually a pretty sight, but since he was in the backseat, he didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy it. What filled his vision was the bloody, doughy face of Morton, who looked almost more stunned than beaten, like he couldn’t quite believe what was happening. (He knew the feeling.)

Morton wasn’t an impressive figure really. Although he was relatively tall, he had a small pot belly pooching out his uniform shirt and a soft, round face that could be taken for avuncular, with dark eyes like thumbprints in dough, and neat but thinning brown hair. Gryph actually felt sorry for him, especially now, on his knees on this peeling roof, water sluicing the blood and snot off his bruised face, his right hand hanging twisted and useless at his side. (Gryph understood that Morton had tried to pull his back up weapon, and Steve snapped his wrist cleanly, with a single twist. They never seemed to understand how strong the dead actually were.) Morton had grabbed his arm with his good left hand, but didn’t even try and pull him off, because maybe he finally got the idea that he couldn’t. He was inhumanly strong, at least when the dead took over — otherwise, Gryph knew he was the proverbial ninety pound weakling, for whom lifting a twelve pack of Coke was a major physical activity.

“You c-can’t be -” Frank stammered, trying his best not to choke on his own blood. Of the two partners, Steve was obviously not only in better shape, but had the better take down moves. “- I don’t know what you want from me -”

“What I want?” Steve spat in his face, shaking him for emphasis. “I want my fucking life back, you two faced cocksucking bastard! You were supposed to be my partner! And you know what the biggest joke of all was? Huh? I probably wouldn’t have shopped you to IA, ‘cause I wanted to be loyal to you. I wanted you to get your own shit together. Maybe I deserved to be shot in the back by a coward like you.” He shoved Frank down into the puddles gathering on the tar paper, and stepped away, as if trying to decide what to do. Gryph was vaguely aware of the feeling of a hand passing across his mouth, maybe Steve wiping the rain off, but he lingered for a moment, clearly startled by the unfamiliar contours of his jaw. Even the dead could become slightly disoriented, even after being with him for a while.

Since he stepped away, Gryph figured now was his chance to talk Steve out of this. What is killing him going to do?he wondered/spoke, trying to impose his will on him.

But Steve shook his — their — head, and snapped, “You know this is what I want. I have to do this.”

Kill? There has to be some other way for you to –“You’re fucking nuts,” Frank interjected, his voice sounding clotted with liquid. He staggered up to his feet, and Gryph could dimly see the extent of the damage Steve had meted out. Not only was his face a bloated ruin, like a rotting plum, but there was a trickle of blood coming from his ear, running down his neck and getting diluted to pink by the downpour. “You’re not Steve. Steve is dead.”

The view through his eyes narrowed. “Yeah. And you should know, since you stood over me and waited for me to die, you rat-faced fuck.”

Frank staggered a bit, almost losing his balance from the beating, the loose gravel, and the rain. Although it was almost too dark to tell, he did look suddenly ashen. “H-how did you know … who the fuck are you?”

Steve started stalking towards him, and Gryph was distantly aware of his hands curling into fists at his side. The hatred Steve had for this man was evident in choice of his death for him — he could have shot him, knifed him, even snapped his neck as easily as a twig. But no, he wanted the grisly satisfaction of beating him to death with his (their) bare hands. “I am Steve, you stupid asshole. I came back to spit on your fucking grave, Frank.”

He was not prescient, that wasn’t one of the dubious gifts he received along with giving up his body for rent, but Gryph still knew exactly what was going to happen before it did. Frank tried to step back, put some room between him and the psycho nut job who insisted he was his late partner, and he slipped. He was too close to the edge without realizing it, and as soon as his calves hit the concrete ledge, Frank’s arms pin-wheeled almost comically as he pitched right over the edge of the roof. He let out a startled yelp that was abruptly cut off. There was a noise, a sort of dull thud, but not quite what Gryphon had expected. Then again, what sound did a body make when it hit the pavement?

Steve didn’t look over the edge, which was only a minor victory, as he ran straight for the rooftop access and pelted down the emergency stairs, intending to pick things up on the ground level. It was almost completely pitch black in the building, so Gryphon didn’t really see anything of note, although he was able to guess this building was abandoned, perhaps even condemned, making it a perfect crime scene. But who would know that better than a cop?

Steve burst through the back door, which led out into the alley where Frank had fallen. It was treacherous going, as detritus from the construction site had spilled over, leaving concrete chunks the size of grapefruits littering the ground, and a dumpster overflowing with debris partially blocking the mouth, occluding what little light came from a functioning streetlamp on a corner that might as well have been fifty miles away. It seemed like a different world, something sane and clean, something better than this.

He almost stumbled a couple of times, but finally, after the first visual scan for Frank turned up empty, Steve found him.

This had not been Frank’s night, in more ways than one. He had fallen on a jagged piece of rebar sticking out of a broken concrete chunk, and had impaled himself on it. It was sticking out of his solar plexus, the blood washing away in the torrent of rain, the water making a strangely musical sound as it hit the metal. He hit it back first, so he was bent in a way that was painful, eyes half-lidded and quickly filling up with rain, which spilled down the side of his face like tears. His mouth was agape, and Steve wondered how long it would take to fill up with water.

Steve reached for Frank’s throat to check for a pulse, but Gryphon instinctively shied away, and the revulsion was bone deep enough that Steve actually paused. He’s dead,’ Gryph insisted, anger making him feel something for the first time since he woke up and found Steve in control. I know death, right? I feel it. How do you think I got you? He’s dead, I felt him go. Isn’t that what you wanted?

Steve just stood there for a moment, staring down at Morton’s slack face, watching the rivulets pouring down his face turn red. “Yes, it was,” he said, voice gravelly and resolute.

Then he left, and as always, the feeling was so odd and crippling it made Gryphon drop to all fours. It felt like someone had reached down his throat and ripped something out of the base of his spine, tearing away something more fragile than a membrane, but more tangible than his breath. He was left panting as feeling came back, brutal and raw. He was soaked to the bone, his skin clammy with the rain, and he started shivering so violently his balls shriveled up, his teeth chattered. A sewer grate had backed up somewhere, and a half inch of cold, murky water swirled in the alley, making him that much colder, but he didn’t even try and stand up. He waited until the water washed the blood off his hands.

He wasn’t even sure he had the strength or the will to stand up. He told himself he was waiting for the urge to vomit to subside, but even he knew it was a lie. Nausea was a pretty constant sensation for him nowadays – how could it not be when you lived with what he lived with? The world was overflowing with pain; people had no idea.

But he did, because he felt a small sliver of it. If he felt it all, it would kill him. It was killing him now.

After endless moment of shivering, his muscles so tight it was painful, Taneesha said, from the back of his mind, Glad he’s gone. I hate pigs.

Gryphon scoffed, unable to laugh. Show some respect,’ Mr. Aronofsky admonished, although it sounded more rote than anything. Maybe Steve’s obsession with revenge had unnerved him too.

Hey, you be me and be where I’m from, and you wouldn’t trust ‘em either, Taneesha shot back. Even in death, unbowed. Maybe that’s why she lingered, even though she herself had no idea why; too stubborn to die.

Eventually he got to his feet, but he was not sure it was his doing. He stumbled down the alley, never looking back at the corpse left behind. He had no idea where the car was, but knew the others would lead him to it. The dead took care of him; they had to. The dead kept him, ironically enough, alive.

He wished they would stop.

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