Read Almost Alive (The Beautiful Dead Book 3) Online
Authors: Daryl Banner
“Can we get John some help, please? Ann, I can’t hear or process anything else right now, I’m about to bury
a hole that I can jump in, and I’m—” I stop talking and the words Ann uttered a moment ago suddenly sink in and render me speechless.
“Yes, of course,” Ann agrees. “Bring John this way.”
“Wait.” I’m still hearing her words over and over again. Maybe I misheard her. “Wait, wait, wait. What did you just say? About … About years?”
“What do you mean?”
“Years, Ann? This Necropolis—This
has been your home for
Ann bites her lip in that annoying way when she’s too nervous to answer a question. “Just say it,” I urge her, failing to hide the irritation in my voice. “How many years have I been waiting for John to Rise?”
“Twelve,” she blurts.
For a moment, it’s like I didn’t hear her. My eyes are blank and a breeze carries an imaginary tumbleweed past us. “Twelve,” I repeat numbly.
There’s no way twelve years passed, just like that. Sure, a number of days, maybe even a few weeks, but … but it can’t possibly be true that I was knelt there by John’s grave waiting for him to Rise for twelve years.
Ann touches my arm gently. I flinch, brought out of my daze. “Let me take you and John to the hospital,” she says gently.
After a moment of due reluctance, I follow Ann into the bowels of the city I once fought to escape. I was held here in the Necropolis after being captured by a metal-legged Warlock dwarf, just so happens. I was in the company of Judge Enea, two of her henchmen, Helena, and Grimsky when I was taken. I made friends with Benjamin here, was imprisoned with my Reaper Helena, and met the little Human girl Megan in a cell adjacent to mine. I came face to face with the Deathless King—who was actually a
—at the top of a rice silo they called the Black Tower. I wouldn’t learn that she was my mother until the exact moment I struck a sword through her body some time later and deposited her off the edge of a cliff. What a dutiful daughter I am.
Once many more unimaginable events unfolded, I returned to her. After John died and all hope was lost, I returned to what remained of my mother’s still-animated corpse at the bottom of that fateful cliff and I begged for her guidance. And what a surprise, she was there to give me just the comfort I needed. Mother and daughter, and a not-so-conventional reunion at last. I told her I’d be back, and then I’d—
“Ann, my mother,” I say suddenly. “She’s at the cliff. She’s at the base of the cliff. I told her I’d be back for her, and I’ve … It’s been twelve years and … Oh no! We have to go and get her!”
“Don’t worry,” Ann says very quickly. “It’s handled.”
“You told us where to find her, Winter.” Ann studies the likely-perplexed look on my face. “Twelve years ago when we first came back to Trenton, Megan and I came to you in the Whispers and—You really don’t remember any of this?” Ann fixes her eyes on me. “I just … I know you have lots of questions and … Listen, rest assured, your mother was … was …” She leans in and quietly adds, “She was found. Please, I’ll explain later. Don’t bring it up again, please, please, please. Megan will have my head.”
I blink for an answer.
“First thing’s first,” she says. “Hospital.”
“Hospital,” I agree.
We pass through the streets of the Necropolis. Yes, I refuse to call this place New Trenton. I blanch to even let the name touch my mind, let alone my tongue. As we make way between the space of two massive warehouses, I realize the path is wide enough to fit eight trucks driving side by side and yet I still feel as though the buildings are pressing against my shoulders. As if to taunt me, I see a merry gathering of people at an opened garage, laughing at one another’s banter over a picnic bench full of food.
“Can I at least
my mother?” I ask, bothered.
“She’s not here.”
“What? Where is she then?”
“Please, Winter, I’m
you, don’t bring it up. Please. Later, later, later. One thing at a time. John’s Upkeep comes first.” Ann regards me with a quick glance and two nervous eyes, then returns to leading the way.
I do not like the look in her eyes one bit.
We walk further on and I see an open cement area that’s been fashioned into a basketball court. Kids of all ages are playing, from teens to little children. Even their laughter can’t touch me as I stroll by, following Ann through this monstrosity of happiness.
“If there’s no Refinery,” I ask, my eyes following the basketball as a young boy of ten or so years dribbles it from one end of the court to the other, “then how do we Upkeep?” He shoots and scores. Ten points, I decide to give him. He catches the ball, looks up at me as I pass.
“We’ve advanced in those abilities, too,” she explains. “With the sciences of the past being reintroduced … anatomy, the biology of Humans—even Undead … now, when a problem is fixed at the hospital by the doctors, it’s pretty permanent.” She sounds so flippant as she tells me these things. John just seems to be listening curiously, smiling blankly as though he were watching some interesting science show on TV. “No Upkeep’s needed anymore,” says Ann. “My head’s affixed to my shoulders with titanium now. True fact.” She turns her head only to eye John, a sad tinge in her scrunched face.
Don’t scrunch your face sadly at John. “So you’re saying we’re going to … put titanium in him?”
She shrugs. “To be honest, I pretend it’s titanium. I have no idea what they use. Whatever it is, it’s durable enough and a Human couldn’t knock my head off if they threw a battering ram into it. Well, uh,” she reconsiders, biting her lip, “not that one’s tried. I guess my armor kinda helps too. Look to your right, you’ll see some of our Gardening Bio-pods. The space is approximately twelve times bigger than the one we had in Old Trenton for those sorts of crops. It was Jasmine’s expertise once, but, well, nowadays
an expert. Leafy stuff and other stuff. It’s cool as crap. You should see the parsnip.”
Suddenly there is a howling blast of shrill noise, like an alarm. I lift my shoulders, startled by it. The noise breaks across the sky like digital screams.
“Crap!” Ann grabs me by the shoulder. “Hurry, here,
We run under the awning of a nearby building. I turn my head to find all the kids have scattered from the basketball court, the ball left bouncing, forgotten. A pair of women that were strolling have run into the opened garage—the folk with their picnic having also rushed inside and they’re pulling down the door. As the howling continues to screech at us from all directions, I turn to ask Ann what’s happening.
And then as sudden as a thunderclap, the world is deluged with water. Rainwater. I gasp and throw myself against the wall of the building, John in my arms. The rain is the thickest I’ve ever seen—and the most sudden. I could be told the heavens decided to dump an ocean’s fill of water on the world and I’d believe it.
“We need to go inside,” Ann decides, fumbling for the nearest door. The water is lapping up near our feet now, and I remember the all-too-familiar sting of water’s touch on Undead skin: it burns worse than fire, worse than acid, worse than anything imaginable. “Hurry, here,” she calls out, pushing open a door.
I hurry to her, sliding against the wall until we’ve made our way into the building and the door shuts in front of us. Through the windows in the door, I watch as the world drowns.
“How …?” I try to ask, can’t find the words.
“It’ll end soon,” Ann assures me. “Always does. Hey, come this way. This building connects to the hospital.” She starts to go. I’m stuck staring after the window for a moment, shaken to the core by that very sudden and seemingly unnatural cascade.
It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in either of my Lives.
The sirens are still screaming outside, I can hear them as we walk through bright white hallways. John lets loose a dry chuckle and says, “That was a close call.”
“Always is,” Ann admits. “The only place it doesn’t rain is the Whispers.” She eyes me carefully. “I guess it’s the only place Mother Nature won’t touch just yet.”
“Rain? You call that rain?” I emit one single dry laugh of my own. “That was an
. There’s nothing natural about that rain, Ann. That was … I don’t even have a name for what that was.” I look back, find the door’s too far away to see anymore. I can still hear the sirens through the impossibly loud rain pummeling the roof.
We turn a corner. A large set of double doors open when Ann pushes her palm into a button on the wall, and through them we go, passing into what I presume to be the hospital. We walk by many empty rooms, trudge down a echoing hall full of nothing, then arrive at a completely, utterly empty waiting room.
“We’re here,” Ann says unnecessarily. “Wait here.” At a little counter, some sweet-faced girl dressed in a modest uniform speaks briefly with Ann, then directs her to a door further down the hall. “Alright. This way, Winter.”
I follow. I’m still shaken. The world floods us, pouring and pouring and pouring, and my broken lover in my arms is the one and only comfort I know. And it’s not much of a comfort, to be honest.
Before long, I’ve laid John down on a stiff hospital bed dressed in pink-striped sheets. His eyes, sleepy-looking and glassy, simply bounce around the room as if he were still on some peculiar adventure. The rain keeps striking against the window in one unrelenting wave. “The doc’s gonna come in soon,” Ann explains calmly. “Oh, and Marigold too, if she can be found. She keeps herself busy in steelwork now. Hah. Can you imagine?” Ann touches my cheek suddenly, startling me. “I’ve really … I’ve really missed you, Winter.” Then her hand slips from my face just as quickly and she saunters to the door. I listen to the loud clinking of armor as she disappears down the hall.
And then we’re alone with the rain.
I turn to John, still lying happily as ever on the pink bed. I’m sure this place has never before seen a cheerier occupant. It’s almost annoying.
He faces me, smiling. “So, how do you know her?”
“Oh, Ann?” I take another glance at the window and the rain, then come to his side. “She was one of the first Undead I befriended, actually. She showed me her unique talent of … being able to … remove her own—Are you sure you’re okay, John? You’re way too calm.”
“Yeah, I’m alright! I … I should be, right?” He smiles uncertainly. His grey eye seems to shimmer in the queer hospital lighting, or lack of.
I want to hold his hand, but I realize the action may startle him. After all, to John, I’m just the woman he met moments ago, the one who pulled him from the earth.
“Listen, John. If you … If you have any questions, or something’s confusing you or upsetting you or … or anything else, really …”
“You’re so kind,” he says dreamily.
I stammer. The right side of his face still sags in a somewhat unsettling way, that one creepy ghost-grey eye of his, and yet somehow, impossibly, I feel like the old John is still looking at me, just through a mask of disgusting flesh. Even through all the dark recesses of sleeping memories, I know he’ll someday find me again. We waited for twelve years for John’s Second Life to begin. We’ll wait a bit longer for his First Life to catch up.
“You’re pretty, too,” he adds.
I frown. “Pretty?”
He smiles lazily. “Your hair is so long and pretty. White like winter. Oh, hey.” He chuckles, lifts a brow despite his skin trying to fall off. “Must be why you’re named that, huh? You’re amazing.”
I marvel at how calm this version of John is. He fears nothing. He worries for nothing. He’s like the leaf gently drifting in some soft, mischievous breeze. “I think
amazing,” I whisper too quietly.
John hears anyway. His eyes brighten, the grey and the brown, and his smile grows bigger.
Then there’s a soft knock, and my old friend Doctor Collin is standing at the door, ending our little moment. He’s as featureless and plain as he was twelve years ago, not a bit of him changed, though now he sports a thick pair of glasses and a doctor’s white coat. “Winter. John.” He greets the two of us gently, his voice so small it couldn’t fill a teaspoon. “I’ve been summoned to fix you up, John. Good day.”
“Is it?” I ask just as gently. “There’s a rainstorm from hell outside, John can’t use his legs or arms, and his face is falling off.”
John gapes. “My face is
Doctor Collin comes to the other side of the bed. “No worries, John. We’ll get you fully-functional.”
“Oh, and this,” I say, setting John’s ear on the table that I’ve been carrying in my squeezed fist. John stares at it, gawping dumbly.
“Good, good.” Doctor Collin’s smile is tiny but there. “I haven’t seen a Raise in six years, but I’ll do my very best. You’ll never need another Upkeep.” He lifts his two meek eyes to mine. “It’s really good to see you again, Winter. The others will rejoice at your return.”
I smile placidly, then wipe my hands on the sides of my dress. When I peer at them, I see what looks like blue glitter. It’s confusing at first, until I remember all at once the Lock-stone I’d buried with John so long ago. Is this shimmering blue-green dust the remnants of it? Did the stone disintegrate over the twelve long years? “Rejoice,” I agree, thinking about the passing of time and its horrible effects. I stare at the blue specks of dust in my hand, staring and staring, wordless.