Meanwhile, In New York?

Meanwhile, In New York?

I was wrapped up in something. Wrapped up really tight but not uncomfortably so. I could barely think. I had blacked out and then not really – I felt my mind sort of slip away and away and away, but it never really left me. Like a road slipping away under an automobile, maybe, now that I think about it: just unraveling in back of me while still attached, and as it did that, I marveled that I could have so much consciousness, that I could be so much in my own mind, so much to keep spooling out like that. I thought of my mind then like a fishing line just going out and out and out, my imaginations and thinkings and emotions just spooling away. What was attached to the other end of it, I wondered? What was it clinging to, or what was pulling it away from me while I stayed here?

I couldn’t breath very easily but that didn’t bother me so much, either. Nothing bothered me so much. For example, I saw sometimes a vision of Naked Girl clinging to a giant thumb as it pulled first through rocks and dirt and then through nothingness and then through more nothingness but a different kind of it. The first nothingness had been a soupy mixture of colors and what I’d swear were thoughts. Have you ever seen a thought? I have, now, I think, because I saw them in that vision, right then. Thoughts look a lot like birds, only they look more like butterflies, I guess, or maybe like hedgehogs. I didn’t know then what hedgehogs looked like but remembering back now, I’m pretty sure that thoughts looked exactly like hedgehogs except for when they looked like bricks. Just like colored bricks, red and yellow and green and sandy and solid at the same time, thoughts were, like crystal balls.

Well, anyway, I saw thoughts. You try to describe them when you see them. You’ll probably eventually be able to, just like I did. I can do it a lot now and each time I see them I don’t know how to describe them. I wish they stayed looking like hedgehogs. Those are cute.

The second layer of nothingness was scarier because it really was nothing. Nothing nothing nothing just… void. That’s what I’m supposed to call it, I know, now, but I didn’t then. I wasn’t scared then, either, maybe because the part of my mind that was supposed to be scared had already reeled out behind me and now was gone. I hoped I could pull it back in but I didn’t know where to pull it back in to because the part of me that should hold it I guess was gone, too.

Then there was more thought-soup and I could see Naked Girl again but she looked cold and blue and she shivered a lot, not shivering like cold but shivering like the image on the telescreen sometimes blurs when it doesn’t quite synch up – vibrating, almost.

I tried to focus but I couldn’t so I just enjoyed the comfortable feeling of being kind-of-pleasantly-smushed by whatever was doing the smushing but then I got uncomfortable because I didn’t know where Naked Girl had gone and I was surrounded by sounds that I couldn’t identify. It was strange – stranger, maybe, than everything else that had happened to me. Or not. It was as equally strange as everything else that had happened to me, since I started walking out of that diner. The only normal things that had happened to me were those few days with Brigitte when I listened to Reverend Tommy talking and began to gather that I might be what he was talking about and wondered if Brigitte would still love me if I was what Reverend Tommy was talking about, wondered if I could make her more like me…

… why was I thinking about that now? I got scared a little then and began to struggle against the smushing because it felt like my memories of Brigitte were unspooling and I didn’t want to lose those.

Did I?

It was strange because I couldn’t gather my thoughts and I was still smushed feeling but the nothingness and the nothing-thought-soup were all gone. I was in a room. I realized I was in the diner. There were people walking around, people sitting a the diner tables, a grill with things cooking on them. Other waitresses. Outside the window was a city street, filled with city-daylight, the kind of daylight that is had when sunlight never reaches the ground directly, when all the light that hits the ground has been reflected and reflected and reflected, over and over again. I watched the scene in the diner as I tried to keep what little was left of my memories from unspooling out of me, tried to hold onto the part where I met Brigitte because I didn’t want to forget that.

Did I?

I looked around the diner and tried to remember why I might not want to remember meeting Brigitte but I was confused. The people in the diner were eating their breakfasts and talking. The forks and knives and spoons were touching the plates. Doors were opening, Horses and walkers were going by outside. The grill was smoking and sizzling. When I turned my head I could see a large guy, kind of fat, really, but fat in that really big way that lets you know that there’s fat, then muscle, then more fat underneath that and that the muscle is really strong, has to be to move all that fat. The big guy, the man, was punching buttons on the cash register and people were waving their hands and it was blinking and then someone set down a stack of plates.

But the sound wasn’t right.

Did I want to forget Brigitte? I didn’t know.

I saw a flash of Naked Girl clinging to a thumb.

The sound in the diner was all off. I looked at one guy, a guy that was wearing something kind of fancy, a little too fancy for this diner, a suit of some kind. He was reading off a Read-Or, or watching the Read-Or, I guess, because there were no words on it. I was, I realized, approaching him, and I looked down at my feet, which were not bare at all. Hadn’t I been barefooted? I had shoes on now, sneakers. They were velcroed shut and there was, I realized, blood on them and I almost screamed but I couldn’t, quite, and also I realized more that it was just ketchup, because I looked and I was carrying a bottle of ketchup, carrying it, it seems, to the man in the suit with the Read-Or held in his right hand as he sat at the table, pushing eggs around with a piece of toast in his right hand but not eating it.

On the Read-Or unit, a face was talking, or at least the mouth was moving. I heard everything through a muzzy haze, the same sounds I’d hear when Brigitte would be messing with me and I’d pull a pillow over my head—the sounds coming from me but muffled before being bounced back to my ears, woozy moans.

Did I miss Brigitte?

The sound on the Read-Or unit was like that, but it didn’t match up. As the Read-Or face’s lips moved, I didn’t hear words. I heard screeching, like metal doors being pushed open and shut, or metal on metal, at least.

I held out the ketchup to the man. I felt my lips move. I meant to say something like here’s your ketchup and I wondered how I knew to bring it to him. Dreams sure are weird. I tried to remember why I’d brought it to him. Did I want to remember that? No. I didn’t care about that at all. What did I want to remember? Brigitte? I don’t know.

But instead of saying here’s your ketchup, I heard my voice, all pillow-muffled, say “It might get easier as time goes on.”

I stopped. I was confused. But the man in the suit, watching the screeching-metal head on the Read-Or, didn’t seem bothered in the slightest. He smiled and held out his hand and his mouth made movements. As he did, he said:

“How did you even discover they could do this?”

I stepped back, having handed the ketchup to the man. Before I could turn, I saw him unscrew the lid of the ketchup and turn the bottle upside down. He hit it with his hand, over and over, trying to slap the ketchup out. But instead of hand-slapping-glass, each time he hit it the sound was someone talking:







Then the ketchup came out and the man poured it on. I finished turning around even though I wanted to hear what the ketchup bottle had to say. I saw that the man at the cash register, the big guy, was looking at me funny. He opened his mouth to say something but his mouth, again, didn’t match up with what he said. His mouth seemed to be saying Rachel come over here but I didn’t follow that because the words I heard him say were

“I think she’s waking up, that’s why. Secure her.”

I remembered waking up and I didn’t want to lose the waking up feeling and I tried to run out of the diner again, tried to throw down the tray I was carrying in my left hand, and tried to run but my sneakers wouldn’t move and I just clung to the thought I don’t want to forget waking up.

Brigitte's Underwear Is Very Distracting

It was the revenants, of course. I think maybe Doc had been trying to warn me, had been going to warn me. I’m not sure if he rose up and blinked or beeped or wailed or something but why wouldn’t he warn me about them? I just didn’t know then if he was or wasn’t warning me because one second I was only this far from Brigitte’s lips and the next there was this cold hand clawing into my shoulder and dragging me back and I smashed into the window headfirst. The hand had only broken a small piece into it. My head didn’t break it at all but I was knocked silly for a second and as the hand got its grip better I slumped onto the table.

Brigitte, I saw, had stood up and had her hands up to her face, stunned and Doc, I saw, too, had risen up and had his tentacles out. One was pointing straight at me and Doc was drifting, jetting, almost, to his left. An Octopus doesn’t move all that fast but he didn’t have to go very far. Only before he could do anything the revenant grabbed me again and began to pull, and then Brigitte grabbed my ankles…

… and even in the midst of all that I noticed how warm her hands were and how nice it felt to have her touch me…

And the revenants hands were digging into my armpit and pulling more, its gross fingernails clawing at me and maybe drawing blood, I thought, as Brigitte pulled back. She was stronger and she pulled and the glass broke more and half the revenant came into the restaurant, its side landing on the sharp glass and cutting into it. There wasn’t any blood but the injury, if it was injured, if dead things can be injured like that, caused it to let go and when it did Doc did that zap thing, shooting electricity at it as I scrambled away. The little lightning-bolt thing shot out and hit the revenant, who spasmed and then slumped and I stood up and Brigitte grabbed me and hugged me… and again she was warm and I was grateful for it. Especially grateful when she said “Let’s get out of here” and without taking her arms off of me she went up to the front door.

Peering out through the tinted glass she said “There’s two more of them out there.”

I didn’t look. I was watching Brigitte’s face watching them and I was rubbing my shoulder and armpit where the revenant had grabbed me.

“This way,” Brigitte said, and went back behind the counter. She walked me through the swinging door into the kitchen and back area. Off to the right were stoves and things, and off to the left, a supply room. There was also a back door and as I looked at it I saw in the little window a leering face with the raggedy, previously-sewn eyelids that I’d come to recognize. I drew in my breath but I didn’t scream. I pointed. Brigitte looked and her lips got real tight and she bit her lower lip. “Okay,” she said, finally, as we stood there. The revenant was now pushing at the door and clawing at it. He’d seen us.

“Where can we go?” I asked. Brigitte still had her hand around my waist and she pushed me off to the side into the storage area. She backed me up against a bunch of bags of flower and a canister of syrup and as she pressed against me she began reaching past me. She was leaning against me with her full body, legs lined up against mine and chest lined up against mine so our breasts mashed together and pressed each other and rubbed, and she was leaning her head past mine (Brigitte’s a little taller than me) so that I could see her neck as she reached in to the shelf behind me. “What…” I began but that was all I could really say. It was all a bit much for me at that moment.

“There,” she said, and pulled something and behind her a door fell away. She pulled back from me – I hated that—and said “Follow me.” She backed up and began climbing down into the trapdoor. She was about three steps down into the dark and I was wondering where that went, as I was also looking at the white-pale skin of her breasts and the little tiny part of the front of her bra that I could see. She looked up and said “Well, come on,” and I felt myself get a little hot from blushing.

“What’s this?” I said, as I turned around and started climbing down.

“Daddy’s prepared for this for a while. I think it’s because he hangs around Reverend Tommy so much,” Brigitte said.

“Prepared for…” I stopped talking because Brigitte had reached up to steady me and had a hand on either side of my butt at my hips and I couldn’t concentrate.

“Revenants,” Brigitte said as I got down and turned around. We were in the dark, only some light from above drifting in. She was face to face with me, again, only a few inches apart. Her hands had dropped off as I had rotated to face her. “Daddy said they’re becoming more common and he was worried that they were going to attack us so he began this project to allow me to get around without worrying about them. Speaking of which,” she said and reached off to her right in the dark. The trapdoor above snapped shut and bolts clicked and we were in the dark. I stood there wondering what was supposed to happen, and for just a second it was perfectly black. In that second, I swear that I felt her lips brush against mine, just really quick-like, almost not a kiss at all, but I know what I felt and I couldn’t have imagined that. I know I couldn’t have, didn’t, imagine it because every time after that when I kissed Brigitte she did that same thing, where she’d first brush her lips against mine featherlight and soft and barely touching so that I’d think, again, each time, that she maybe hadn’t kissed me, that I hadn’t touched her at all. Also, I know I didn’t imagine it because at that point, in this life, at least, I’d never kissed anyone and didn’t know what it really felt like.

But just as I thought maybe she had kissed me, it stopped and lights came on and she was turning away. The lights in the tunnel glowed only dimly, a little blue-ish, but showed the way down further. Above, I heard more glass breaking, very dimly, far away. “Daddy’s going to be really mad,” Brigitte said, but she didn’t seem too concerned about it. She took my hand and led me down the hallway. We walked through the tunnel, past a couple of things that might have been doors and past a couple of intersections. She paused at one and looked around, touching her finger to her lips and thinking, squinting her eyes a little to make her forehead wrinkle up with little vertical knots. She then held her hand up and made little motions with it. I realized, after a moment, that she was trying to picture the streets above, moving her hand the way she would have walked. “This way,” she decided and turned left. “I don’t use these a lot,” she said over her shoulder, and kept walking along. Another block or so and she stopped. There was a ladder in the wall and she looked down the tunnel and then at the ladder. “Here,” she said, seeming for the first time a bit uncertain. Then she seemed more definite. “Come on up,” she said and climbed up the ladder first.

I couldn’t help it. She was wearing a skirt, so I looked, but I told myself that she must have wanted me to look because why else would she climb the ladder first? Later that night, while I was laying there trying not to fall asleep, in her bed, I would think she had to climb the ladder first because I didn’t know where to go or how to open the door, but I knew all along it was an excuse, knew it even as I did it, looked up and saw her legs rise up to a pair of skimpy underwear that was made of mostly lace but the lace was made of mostly the spaces between the lace, so it was like they were not there at all, just little wisps of white tracing around her beautiful butt. I almost reached up to touch it. But she looked down and smiled as I blushed again and said “It’s clear.” It was only then that I realized she’d opened the trap door a little and looked out.

She opened it more and pushed it aside and then waited while I climbed up. We were in a stairwell. There was a solid wood front door and a hallway that led back behind us, and a short stairwell that led up. It’s a rooming house,” Brigitte whispered, holding her finger up as she did so, making a shushing sound. She took my hand again. I looked around but all I could picture was her underwear. My room’s upstairs,” she said and led me up the stairs into the room I’d live in for the next few days.

We walked into the room and she quickly went over to the window. Doc drifted over by the dresser and in the glow he gave off I could see things like hair brushes and lipstick and clips and a little Read-Or unit, which I knew about because I’d seen people sitting on a bench waiting for the dirigibus and using them while I hid in the park across the street and I’d asked Doc what the people were holding and looking at, little things they kept peering into and pressing or tapping occasionally. He’d said they were mostly reading the news and I’d wondered why anyone would want to do that when they could have their Octopus play the news for them but Doc had said that not everyone could afford an Octopus, that they were really expensive and were considered luxury items for the rich.

Then, I’d had too much else on my mind to wonder why I had one.

I looked around as Brigitte looked out the window from the gauzy curtains that were closed in front of it. There was the dresser-and-mirror, a little chair, a bigger stuffed chair, and Brigitte’s bed, a lumpy, overstuffed, puffy looking thing that was covered in blankets (rumpled and barely made) and a few stuffed toys and pillows.

Only one bed!

I watched her and tried to concentrate. I knew I should be thinking about the revenants but I didn’t, really, think about them at all. I’d been in Hell and dealt with other revenants and demons and had been chased around by Ivanka on one night that had been more forced than anything else -- even though it had felt pretty good, I hadn’t really wanted to do anything with her because I was scared of her, a little, and also because of all the damned souls screaming not far away – and I’d seen enough that a couple of revenants wasn’t that scary to me, or not scary enough to overcome my thrill at there being only one bed and the fact that Brigitte had maybe kissed me.

Plus, I couldn’t stop thinking about her underwear. So I didn’t notice what she was doing at the window that night. Didn’t think about it at all until I was pulled into Hell with Naked Girl clinging to me, when I realized that the tunnel that I was being pulled out of was almost exactly the same as the tunnel I had walked through with Brigitte that night, and also realized that Brigitte had been standing at her window and making some sort of hand gesture.

But you know what? Even then, getting pulled into Hell and remembering the tunnel sameness and the little hand gesture she was sending out the window, I mostly thought about her underwear. It was really sexy.

And then I kissed her...

Part 11:

Brigitte knelt in front of me after she’d finished cleaning up. She’d done some more mopping, some more wiping down of tables, and then had come over to me. “How’s it going over here?” she’d asked, and knelt down to get on eye level with Doc, which put her on eye level with my breasts, which should have made me uncomfortable, maybe, but I wanted Brigitte to look at them, mostly, although I didn’t want her to look too closely at them and figure out that they looked like they were from different people than other parts of my body. By then, I knew a little about what I was, thanks to Bob, although I hadn’t really come to terms with it yet. I didn’t know, for example, that I was dead. Bob hadn’t told me that and it wouldn’t be until Samson’s comment that it would really sink in that the only way to create someone like me is to make someone like me, a bunch of someone’s like me, as it turns out, dead.

So I was dead but I didn’t know it and I didn’t feel dead as I sat there at the table and Brigitte looked at Doc and said “He’s so cute, can I touch him?” I felt alive, all tingly and warm and kind of sweaty, actually, a little hot and bothered because as I looked at her going “Ooo, I haven’t hardly ever seen one of these,” I saw her mouth making an o and I wanted to kiss her, and then she licked her lips a little, just to wet them down, and they were warm and soft and really red and wet, and I really wanted to … feel her tongue.

I found out later that Brigitte never wears makeup. She never wears lipstick, and yet her lips are the reddest, fullest lips I’ve ever seen. So okay, my experience is like four weeks in real life now and a lot of time in Hell and people don’t look their best in Hell, but still, they’re really red and full and bright and kissable and I wanted, really wanted, to just lean over and kiss them. But I didn’t. I sat at the table and Brigitte knelt alongside it and touched Doc here and there, making him light up and play music and burble in that Octopus language, and she giggled when he flared blue. “These things are so cool,” she said, and then looked up at me and her eyes got all wide. I was fiddling with the spoon she’d left with the pie.

“So, I’m Brigitte,” she said. She stayed kneeling.

“I’m Rachel,” I said, and wondered if I should smile.

“Hi, Rachel,” she said. “Not from around here, are you?”

I shook my head. Brigitte stayed kneeling but sat back on her legs a little. “Where are you from?” she asked.

New York, I guess,” I said.

“How’d you get here?”

“Walked. Doc showed me the way.” I wanted to cut to the point and say I saw your underwear and your back today and I’d like to see them again. Brigitte, when I said that I walked, ducked her head down and looked below the table and I remembered to put my legs together.

I hadn’t stolen any underwear from the house.

She looked back up and said “You must have good legs, to walk that far.” She didn’t seem surprised that I’d walked across most of the country. But, then, I don’t know why she would. Almost nobody drove cars. I’d seen two maybe the whole time I’d been walking, all those days, and they were police or government cars. There were a lot of slow-flying-things, dirigibles and balloons and the like, and bicycles and horses and stuff and about once a day I could hear what Doc said were rockets. I never saw them. I just heard them, a long sustained whooshing and then some booms that Doc said were sonic booms.

“I guess,” I said.

“You guess a lot,” Brigitte said, and I looked up from my plate, worried that I’d said something wrong – I hadn’t talked to any living people since New York and the only person I’d spoken to at all was Bob, and he doesn’t count because he was easy to talk to and also because he was a revenant and because I didn’t want to kiss him so badly. But Brigitte was smiling. “Do you guess I could sit down?”

The cook had left while she was cleaning up. He hadn’t even come out front and I don’t know if he’s known I was here. I figured we were alone in the restaurant and I wanted very much for her to sit down. “Sure,” I said, and I slid to my right on the bench. I was grateful that I’d figured out how to hint about that because she sat down next to me, so I could look at her out of the corner of my eye and our shoulders touched. When they did, she looked at me again, a little more curious than the last time, but I didn’t catch that right then, either. I just liked our shoulders touching.

“So what are you doing here?” she asked.

“Eating,” I lied. I thought she meant here in the diner and I should’ve said I wanted to come in and meet you but I said eating and looked at her sidewise. She giggled again and I liked that. I liked that I made her laugh, even if I didn’t know why. She put her hand on my forearm, the one that I’d first noticed was different than the other, and that made me nervous because the dress only had short sleeves and if she looked closely she’d see that the skin on my arms was differently colored, but I also really liked her hand, warm and smooth and dry, on my arm. Her thumb rested lightly on the outside of my arm and her four fingers curled onto the inside and gave me a little squeeze as she said “No, silly, I mean here in this town,” and I shrugged. I didn’t care if she thought I was funny or silly if she’d keep holding my hand.

“I walked here because Doc told me to,” I said, and then wondered how that would sound. She took it in stride.

“Are you staying for a while?”

“I don’t have any place to stay,” I said. “I’m not sure what I’m doing,” and I thought for a moment about just telling her the whole story but then I probably wouldn’t get to kiss her.

“You haven’t decided yet?”

I stared at the table for a long time, and looked at Doc, who was resting on the table, his eight tentacles splayed out and each one lit at the end. The rest of him was dark. He beeped softly and one little light-sensor that I thought of as an eye blinked on and then off. Like he was winking at me. I didn’t know what to say, though. I thought about asking him what I should say, but I didn’t think that was the kind of thing an Octopus could tell me. So I just looked out the window then, for a while, and then down at the table and after a few moments Brigitte said “’Cause you’re welcome to stay for a while,” and I looked over at her as she gave me another squeeze on the arm, tightening her fingers just a tiny little bit to dimple my skin.

But she didn’t untighten; she held my arm lightly but firmly and I looked up and met her eyes. She had really really blue eyes, and they’re big and in the light of the diner the pupils were even bigger and her lips were so red and just a little bit parted so I could almost see her tongue.

“Could I?” I said.

“You could,” she whispered.

We sat like that, motionless, her mouth just a little open, side by side, our legs not touching, our sides not touching, but our arms together and her hand on my wrist, and I stared into her eyes. I was willing her to look at me and just accept me, to help me feel comfortable in my own body, to like me the way I already liked her. I wanted her to giggle again, and to smile, and to squeeze my arm a little more, and mostly I wanted her to lean in and kiss me. Then I wanted to lean in and kiss her.

And then I thought: Why can’t I? A whole sequence of events ran through my mind: I would lean in to kiss her and just before our lips touched, just before I got to feel her moist plump lips on my own, just before I brushed my lips against hers and her lips against mine, just before my lips would press into hers and open hers up and just before I would feel the tip of her tongue on my lips, warm and wet, just before I leaned into her with more urgency and rubbed my lips over hers and over her tongue, just before I lifted my own tongue to playfully touch the end of hers and just before we both accidentally opened our eyes at the start of the kiss and just before we giggled at that and then closed our eyes and wrapped our arms around each other and began to ferociously kiss, I saw all of that not happening because in my mind as I leaned in to kiss her, just before all of that I thought for sure that she would pull back and look at me in horror and ask what I thought I was doing and why I was leaning towards her and she would be horrified that I was trying to touch her at all, I figured she would not want to kiss me, she would yell that she was just trying to be nice, and she’d stand up, her beautiful tight body quivering with anger instead of lust and she would insist that I leave and I’d spend that night cold and alone and in Hell while my body shivered against a tree. I saw all of that happening, in my mind, in a flash, and it kept me from leaning in and kissing her, and instead, we sat there, her hand on my arm, and staring into each other’s eyes, while I tried to think if it was worth it.

“Kiss me,” Brigitte said. I swear she said it but I barely heard it. So I leaned in to kiss her after all, and she screamed and pulled back and I thought oh, God, I was right, she’s going to throw me out, but then the window crashed in and a hand grabbed at my shoulder.

Meanwhile in Albuquerque and then Meanwhile In New York...

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque?

“Is it true?” I asked Brigitte. Brigitte just looked at me. “Is it true, Brigitte? Were you told to love me?”

She stared at me. She didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what that meant.

“Tell me,” I said.

“Yes, tell her,” Samson said. He didn’t sound nice. I knew I never liked him.

Brigitte looked up at me. There were tears in her eyes.

“Rachel,” she said.

“It is true, isn’t it!” I felt a lump in my throat. I couldn’t even breathe for a second. I felt dizzy. “You were told to make me love you. This is all just a big set-up! You’re like all the rest of them, like Reverend Tommy and this stupid damned guy,” I pointed at Samson, “And Rex and your father and those revenants and all of them. You just wanted… you all want to… use me. That’s all.”

“Rachel,” Brigitte choked out and she was crying. “I’m sorry,”

“Sorry!” I just whispered it but I wanted to shout it. I couldn’t, though. I felt so sad. So weak. So I tried to say it again. sorry…” and then I realized that I was sitting down. I looked over at Samson, who was smiling.

“You should never attack someone in his own HQ,” he said.

“What are you doing?” Brigitte demanded.

“Sleep gas,” he said. “I need her to not leave and I need you to back off now.”

I slumped to the floor. Not sleep,” I said. I don’t want to…

Brigitte looked at me. “You’re giving her too much,” she said to Samson. Everything was blurry like it was underwater.

“She’s strong,” he said.

“Rachel, listen to me,” she said, and came over by me. I wanted to push her away. I wanted to grab her and hold her. How could she? How could she lie to me? She was saying something. I tried to focus as my eyes fluttered open and closed, open and closed. So blurry, so hard to focus. I could kind of taste the gas, I thought, and I hated Samson even more. I wanted to tell him that I was never going to help him now but I was trying to stay awake because I didn’t want to go to Hell and I didn’t want to miss what Brigitte was saying and also there was some kind of rumbling or crackling near me. Brigitte was talking. “Just because I was told to make you love me,” she began and then started crying and I tried to focus. It was true! I felt the tears in my eyes. All I could think of was after the pie was finished and the restaurant was closed. I put my head down and my eyes closed but I wasn’t asleep yet and she tried to begin again. “Just because…” but then she was interrupted by a loud roaring and crashing and buckling and tearing. I opened my eyes just a crack, the most I could do, and I saw the floor trembling and breaking up around me and I felt something, some kind of scaly thing grabbing me. I saw Naked Girl running up behind me…

“Protect,” I said… I was going to tell her to protect Brigitte but I couldn’t finish and as I felt a hand or maybe a tentacle grab at me and as I saw revenants swarming in with ray guns shooting at Brigitte and Samson, as I saw Naked Girl dive towards me, I blacked out.

Meanwhile, In New York Again:

“It’s done,” the man said. He slumped heavily to the floor, sitting there and resting his hands on his knees and his head on his forearms. He paid no attention to the blood and bodily fluids that were all over his arms and his floor, sitting in a puddle of goo and glop that would have soaked through his clothing if he had not worn the protective gear. “We just have to animate it.”

“That took long enough,” the revenant said. He was mad, the man suspected, because they’d had to kill the third henchman, too, and that hadn’t been planned but the limbs on the others just weren’t working.

“It should have taken longer,” the man said. It was not a retort, not a sarcastic comment. It was just a statement. He fretted that the sewing was not good enough, that the parts were not adequately matched, that the whole thing was substandard work that would reflect badly on him and lose him money and get him caught. He stood up again. He picked up the chip from where it sat on the table.

“What are you going to do with that?” the revenant asked.

The man went over to a cabinet that he pressed his hand against. One heartbeat, two, three and he lifted his hand. Each time, it would reset to a different prime number of heartbeats that only his biorhythms could trigger. He opened the door to see the Display.

It glowed.

It was set on a large canvas, a canvas painted sky blue in large, swoopy brushstrokes. The man had done those himself, at the start of this enterprise. It was not something that the Lieutenant had taught him. It was something he’d felt he should do himself. Something that helped him feel as though this dirty business he practiced was not so nasty, that all the fluids and chopping and sewing and, yes, killing and kidnapping, was maybe for a higher purpose, that he was at the least helping these people, these women, that he brought in off the streets and then chopped up and put back together with parts of their sisters-in-spirit, that he was helping them. On the blue background, the painted background that called to minds clouds and air and blue skies and water all at once, a pattern was taking form, an intricately rendered mosaic picture of a woman, a beautiful woman with long slim legs and slender arms and a narrow waist and a shapely bosom, a woman whose head was thrown back, whose eyes were closed, whose hands were open and at her sides, a woman who looked as though she was soaring through the sky/water/clouds/brushstrokes.

The woman was a mosaic made entirely of chips. She was not finished, only about ¾ of the woman’s body was filled in, but it was a thing of horrifying beauty, even for the Revenant, who stalked over and stared at it.

“How many…” he said.

“A lot,” the man said. He stared at the Display and looked to the chip.

“Why?” the revenant asked.

“To help them,” the man said. He could not express the symbolism that he felt, and did not try. By projecting them, their chips, soaring, the man knew, he was sending them to Heaven, wherever that might be. When he placed a chip onto the mosaic, as he did now, he felt, he was taking the soul of the woman or man he had just dissected, the woman or man whose body was reassembled in parts here and there, whose body would become a vessel for the wish fulfillment of someone else, someone rich, someone who needed a recomposed zombie slave, he was taking the soul of that person whose body he had destroyed, and he was sending that soul straight to Heaven.

I can take as long as I need, she said.

I walked right up to the door of the restaurant, like I’d done in about 15 different convenience stores on the way here, but this time I wasn’t trying to avoid notice or anything like that. Doc came with me, too, even though he usually didn’t. I went inside. The little restaurant had about 20 tables and a long counter. Brigitte was the only waitress walking around and there were only three of the tables taken, by men, each of them eating alone.

Brigitte, still with her ponytail, came over to me.

“Hi there,” she said, with a smile. I felt a little fluttery. I put my hands up to my face and then back down.

“Hi,” I said.



“Would you like to sit at a table? Or the counter? Maybe the counter,” Brigitte said, and reached out and took my wrist. I felt kind of electric-y when she did. Not Sharing. I still am not sure what that is. This was just the tingle I got – still get - -when Brigitte touched me. That was the first time and I honestly think I maybe almost fainted. Her fingers were soft and warm and they touched my wrist just so lightly. She led me over to the counter. She was looking at me kind of funny. “I like your octopus,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said, and stood there next to the stool she’d stopped me in front of. She looked at my face and smiled again.

“Well, sit down,” she told me.

Doc hovered down and said Do not sit at the counter. Brigitte looked at him.

“He’s cute,” she said.

“Yes, he is,” I said. “I should listen to him, I guess, maybe, and can I sit not at the counter?” I didn’t want to argue with her. Brigitte pouted a little, turned her mouth down.

“Sure. But the counter’s where I hang out when I’m not waiting on people. I thought I could talk to you.”

Not at the counter, Doc said. Hurry, he added.

Brigitte looked at him. “Cute, but bossy,” she said. But she took my wrist again and said “Follow me.” We walked past two of the men eating at tables and Brigitte sat me in the corner. “This okay with you and your octopus?”

I looked at Doc, who buzzed and said yes and drifted down a little to rest on the table. I looked back at Brigitte and wanted to say that it was okay but my throat was a little dry.

She was still looking at me a little too directly and I wondered if I was being rude. She made me feel flushed and I couldn’t talk and couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She laughed after we sat there for about ten seconds not saying anything, just looking at each other.

“Well, quiet, aren’t you? Can’t tell much about you. Let me get you a glass of water. You must be tired.”

I nodded and managed “Okay,” and she went and came right back with a glass of water for me and set it on the table. “We don’t have menus,” she said. “Mostly Cook’ll make anything that you want and people aren’t real fancy around here. What’re you in the mood for?”

I didn’t have any money and hadn’t thought beyond the moment of coming into the restaurant and talking to her. I didn’t know if I owed her money for the table or the water or anything. I sat there and thought, and tried to think of a single piece of food. But all I’d eaten was various kinds of jerky and sometimes some donuts and a lot of sodas and water that I could steal from the stores along the way. I couldn’t ask her to get me jerky! She watched me as I looked at her and then looked down at my hands and then looked down at my lap to avoid looking at my two different hands and then I bit my lip and tried not to cry because all I’d wanted to do was come in here and talk to her and tell her that I saw her that morning and I thought she was pretty and I thought that she was sexy and I wanted to know her name and wanted her to know my name and I wanted to kiss her – that thought surprised me – and instead, here I was sitting here with these weird hands and probably a weird body and she’d noticed right away ‘cause she was giving me strange looks and I didn’t have money and didn’t fit in and I was going to spend my entire life hiding in the woods with Doc and stealing to support myself. Tears began rolling down my cheek and Brigitte leaned down and said

“It’s okay, hon, I’ll get you something.” And she patted my shoulder again, and then walked off. I was too sad to even think to look at her going away and check her out. I just sat there and thought how stupid I must look, stupid because my hands didn’t match and stupid because I was crying and I tried to stop crying by looking out the window. Doc buzzed just a little and said Crouch down please.

I did, without hesitating. I slid back a little so that I was less visible.

“What is it, Doc?” I snuffled.

Two more revenants. During the day we’d not seen anymore but now they must be out at night. It seemed to me that there were a lot of them here, and that didn’t make sense because we hadn’t seen any – except in Hell – on the way down here. I’d have asked Doc about that except I was too upset about Brigitte and how much of a fool I’d made of myself.

After a few minutes, she brought a plate out to me. It had eggs and bacon and toast and fried potatoes, and she had a big glass of milk with it and set those down. She leaned in and said “Don’t worry about paying. I’ll take care of it.” She looked at me and smiled and I tried to smile back but I’m not sure mine really worked.

Two of the old guys were getting up and leaving, separately, and I began eating and polished off that food faster than I could imagine. Brigitte was over by the counter cleaning things and smiling and humming to herself and I watched her, watched the way her ponytail bobbed and how she held the glasses up to the light to check them for smears and how she kept her apron clean. I wondered, as I used the bread to polish up the egg yolk, what her name was, and how I could find out what her name was. She went and poured coffee for the other old guy, who was all the way on the other side of the restaurant. I saw her talk to him for a bit, in low tones so that I couldn’t really hear. He said something and she smiled and laughed and I saw her teeth and they were little and pretty and white. I guess you really like someone when you think even their teeth are pretty. I know I’d only been awake or whatever a couple of days, but Brigitte was the most fascinating thing I’d seen that whole time, and it was longer than a couple of days anyway, I know now, because Bob and I had spent probably two months on our trip on that second day of Hell. Brigitte was even prettier and sexier than Ivanka, who I’d already met, and that’s saying something.

I’d finished all the food and was sitting and sipping at my water and looking at the plate and trying to look at Brigitte without her catching me, which was why I was looking down when Brigitte came over with some dessert, a giant slice of pie with ice cream on it. It was almost the size of half of a pie. “We’re going to throw it out anyway,” she told me, as I looked down at it and up at her. “So don’t worry about it.” She went back up to the counter and I watched her mopping. She kept her back to me and I saw her arms swinging and her hips swiveling a little with each stroke of the mop: left right left right in tiny smooth little movements, and maybe a little forward and back, too.

It made me kind of sweaty.

I ate all the pie and watched her mop and the other old guy got up and went up to the cash register terminal. I watched him. He talked with Brigitte and she talked back and when she went to the terminal she held up a hand and it lit up and then the old guy held up a hand and waved it near the terminal. Brigitte looked down and nodded and then the guy waved again and said he’d see her tomorrow and he left. I wondered how they’d done that. I’d been near only a few terminals in the past few days but they didn’t work for me like that.

I also wondered again what her name was.

She followed the old guy to the door and waved her hand near the door. It went opaque and the word “CLOSED” glowed in the door, backwards for me inside so it took a second for me to realize what it said.

“Don’t worry,” she called over to me. “You can take as long as you need.”

Brigitte kept me from noticing a lot of things.

Doc kept me there for a while longer, and then let me stand up. I was all for going to the church and finding that girl with the pony tail, but he said not to. He said that we had to wait around there that day.

“Why?” I asked.

Because you do not fit in, he said. I wondered about that, but he clarified then and said you need different clothing.

All of the women who’d gone by had been wearing really nice, pretty dresses. I had on raggedy dirty denim pants and a sweatshirt that we’d stolen someplace because it had gotten kind of chilly one night. I also was hungry again. Doc told me to loosen me up we’d go walking a bit. So I got up and followed him. He didn’t play music. He scooted ahead, puffing up and then down, tentacles buzzing and lifting. I thought he was looking for revenants. I didn’t need to know anything about them; Bob had told me more than enough about them on our trip together, and had also told me that none of them were nice like him.

“None of them?” I’d asked him.

“None but me,” Bob had answered.

“Why are you nice?” I wanted to know.

But Bob had never answered.

So we walked, that day, about a half-mile, to the outskirts of town, and Doc made me sit down again and said Keep quiet and I did. I leaned against a tree and watched Doc, who wafted about 10 feet up, and a small spot on the side of his head glowed green for a few moments, and then went dim.

“What’s that?” I asked him.

I am sampling frequencies, Doc said, which didn’t mean anything to me but he then buzzed lower and went dimmer and said very softly quiet and so I sat there.

There was a shuffling and rustling and I saw one of the revenants, or maybe a different revenant, stumbling along. It walked by, never looking towards the little woods we sat in, and mumbling to itself. This one looked a little more rotten than usual, and had, for some reason, a “Nixon 1972” shirt on. Usually, according to Bob, they favored old concert t-shirts. When I’d asked him why, he’d answered that:

“Because we like crowds,” he said.

“Why?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But I like crowds, too. All revenants do. We like anything to do with crowds. Show us a group of people and it gets our blood racing. Concert t-shirts make us think of the crowds of people attending concerts so we try to find them and wear them.”

“Plus,” Bob had added, “They look good.”

The revenant that walked by now didn’t look “good” but it wasn’t his shirt. He looked hungry and bedraggled. He walked by and I was going to shift positions but Doc held up a tentacle so I stayed still. The revenant came back and walked across the field towards the church, which was now off to my left instead of off to my right because of our walk. The revenant stumbled a little, and walked aimlessly, but I was sure he was heading for the church, from which I could hear all the voices singing again.

It took him forever to get there, but he did, and when he did, he leaned up against the outside of it, pressing his head to the wall. Listening, I realized.

“What’s he doing, Doc?”

Doc floated up a little. A tentacle pointed towards the church. I wondered if Doc saw through those or what.

I do not know, he said, and kept the tentacle pointed towards the church. The revenant stayed there for a long time, and we stayed where we were, until finally what Doc said was the “service” let out. I watched, kneeling near a bush by my tree, as people came out. The pony-tailed girl, Brigitte, was one of the last to come out. There was a guy in a suit standing in front of the church shaking people’s hands and kissing the ladies on their foreheads and smiling, and he hugged Brigitte and I got jealous, but it was an uncle-ish kind of hug so I didn’t really need to be upset and I wasn’t a lot, but I wanted to be the one hugging her, and not like an uncle, either.

Eventually the church crowd faded away and it was early afternoon. I was starved and tired of sitting still.

“When can we go somewhere?” I asked Doc, but he wouldn’t let me move until it was almost dark. To pass the time he played music and snippets of news and things, and tried to teach me things. He told me the name of the town, for one thing, and I can’t remember it now at all, which is kind of embarrassing except that I don’t think I’m ever going back there, so what do I care?

I liked the music, though. I didn’t pay much attention to anything else and finally Doc said

We can go and I got up and started walking towards the church. Not that way, he said, and zipped over to my right. I was disappointed: The pony-tail girl had gone the other way and I said so. You need clothing, Doc said, and led me off to the outskirts of the town, about a half-mile away, where there were a few small houses near the side of the road. The third one, he told me, and I said:

“What about it?”

Go in there.

“Doc, I can’t go in someone’s house!”

It is empty. She is working.

“How do you know that?”

I have been listening.

“Listening? To what?”

We do not have much time, Doc said.

I only later realized that sometimes Doc didn’t answer my questions. Then, I didn’t think much of it. “If I go in there and get clothes, can we go find that girl?” I expected him to give me more chores to do and I don’t know why I kept doing them except that only Doc had answers for me, and I didn’t feel ready to talk to other people at that point.

When I’d first woken up, and dropped that tray in the diner thing in New York City, and walked out, and nobody had tried to stop me, I’d just been running automatically, sort of. I don’t know how to explain it. I just did what my body wanted to do, while my mind kept saying who am I what’s going on what’s that where am I and I didn’t know anything. I was standing on the subway in New York City, the one that runs on pneumatic air drives, whatever that is, according to Doc, and there were people, and there were some that looked like they might be nice people, and I wanted to talk to them, but what was I going to say to them? Excuse me, I just kind of woke up and I’m not sure who I am and I don’t know anything, and also I was just crawling out of a crevasse in Hell and I’m really really scared?

So while I thought, at times, about talking to someone, I never tried to do it and I didn’t really want to talk to anyone in particular; I wanted to get help, and find out what was going on, and stop being scared and confused, but there was nobody that I felt like going up to and saying Help me, and that left just Doc, who had offered to help me and whose advise always worked, so I’d been okay with Doc being my only friend here, and I’d stopped thinking of him as an Octopus. I just thought of him as “Doc,” which he said his name was.

Then I’d seen Brigitte and suddenly I wanted very much to talk to her, to go right up to her and just sit down and start talking and hold her hand and then rub her hand and then squeeze her hand and then rub my hand up her arm to her shoulder, and rub her shoulder, too, and then slowly pull up her shirt so that she wasn’t wearing it anymore…

… it was thoughts like that which I kept in my mind as I walked up to the only door in the small house, the third one, that Doc had said was empty, and under the cover of darkness, while I wondered what Brigitte’s tummy would look like underneath her dress – flat and smooth and soft, I guessed, and white like the sun didn’t hit it much, just like her back—I tried the door and it was open.

Doc hovered right in front of me. Go inside, quickly, he said. I pushed the door open and then shut it and looked around for a light. I couldn’t find a way to turn the lights on and wondered why they didn’t automatically go on like the lights in the apartment, which I guess was my apartment, had.

“Where do I go?” I asked Doc, but the house wasn’t that big. There were only three rooms and one turned out to be the bedroom and Doc glowed a little and we got a couple of dresses. I put one on and Doc had me fold up the other two and carry them and we got back out of there. I was nervous but we’d gotten away with it and he led me down the road towards the town, saying we had to find a place to stay.

“Why?” I asked.

Then I saw her – the pony-tail girl again, and I forgot all about the question I’d asked Doc.

Which I suppose is good because Doc never answered it, anyway.

I mean, I know now why he picked that town to stay in, but I didn’t notice then that he didn’t answer me. I was too enthralled with the sight of Brigitte through a window of a restaurant – she was a waitress! I thought. We have something in common! And I got excited. I don’t know why.

Come this way, Doc said.

But I put my foot down for the first time. I was about to go with him, figuring that I could always come back and find the pony-tailed girl, only I didn’t, because as I was about to turn and go with him, Brigitte looked up from pouring something into a glass for someone, and looked out the window and saw me and our eyes met.

She winked.

And I said: “No, Doc. I’m going in there.”

Doc didn’t protest.

I didn’t notice that, then, either. Brigitte kept me from noticing a lot of stuff I should have noticed.