Read The Lazarus Heart Online

Authors: Poppy Z. Brite

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Collections & Anthologies

The Lazarus Heart

BOOK: The Lazarus Heart
4.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The Crow
The Lazarus Heart

Poppy Z. Brite

Inspired by the series created by
JAMESO'BARR

HarperEntertainment

A Division of
HarperCollins
Publishers

10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299

If yon purchased this book without a cover,

you should be aware that this book is stolen property.

It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither

the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to

be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN 0-06-102009-5

Copyright © 1998 by Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

For information address HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022-5299.

HarperCollins®, and HarperEntertainment™ are trademarks of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

The Crow ™ is a trademark of Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation.

Atrade paperback edition of this book was published in 1998 by HarperPrism Cover illustration © 1998 by Cliff Nielsen

First mass-market edition printing: June 1999 Printed in the United States of America

Visit HarperEntertainment on the World Wide Web at http: //
www. harpercollins. com

♦ 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

for Caitlin

When I have sex with someone I forget who I am. For a minute I even forget I'm human. It's the same thing when I'm behind a camera. I forget I exist.

-Robert Mapplethorpe

There is a dark side to the human soul that is filled with conflict and torment. It is a side of the human soul that few people are brave enough to explore.

-The priest who said mass at Mapplethorpe's funeral

acknowledgments

Thanks to Andy Antippas, Jennifer Caudle, Jeff Conner, Richard

Curtis, Christopher DeBarr, O'Neil DeNoux, John Douglas, Christa Faust, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Rich Miller, James O'Barr, Jeanne O'Brien, Edward R. Pressman, David J. Schow, John Silbersack, Jimmy Vines,

and Leilah Wendell.

one

Down through that part of the evening that is neither night nor day, the big black bird comes, finally, to the old cemetery in the old city on the river. Such a long flight back from the places where the dead wait, marking time until they've forgotten what time is, until they've forgotten even themselves and nothing remains but these earthly stones and the moldering skeletons they signify, and even these will pass in time.

The crow descends through the low, thin clouds that have lingered behind an afternoon thunderstorm, fading blue sky traded for gray. A woman walking along Prytania Street hears the bird's grating cry, looks up to see a violent smudge of ebony against the summer twilight, crosses herself, and walks a little faster past the crumbling walls of Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery.

Maneuvering between magnolia branches, brushing against stiff dark leaves like dripping dragon scales, the crow follows instinct and duty. With nothing that could be called thought, but with something more than the simplest bird impressions, the crow understands the immediate and undeniable task before her. She understands the terrible things that must be done before she can return to the clarity of her carrion life.

And so the crow finds the smallish mausoleum near the center of the cemetery. The pale gray marble is fresh and polished, not yet blasted by the delta sun and angry Gulf storms, a modest jewel tucked between its ancient, weathered neighbors. Around it are monuments placed over the course of more than a hundred and fifty sweltering years, fallen crosses and angels with broken wings, inscriptions wom smooth as silk.

And then this newcomer, at once tasteful and decadent: a tomb that speaks of the wealth of its dead, but speaks also of their otherness.

The crow lights upon the vaulted roof, her talons gripping the slippery bronze acroterion above the sealed door. The acroterion is cast in the reclining form of a pretty young man, hands bound above his head, ankles bound as well, and a gag tied tightly across his mouth. His head is bowed, his eyes closed in perfect supplication. The crow shifts nervously, impatiently, from one ebony claw to the other. Standing on the bronze boy's shoulder, the metal still years away from the streaking stigmata of

verdigris, she caws once more: for herself, for the dim uncertainty she feels. Then she folds her wings, and the resurrection begins.

So much damage to a corpse after death, the slicing ministrations of pathologists and undertakers. Because this man died violently there was an autopsy, organs removed, divined, dumped back into their cold cradle of meat and bone. The application of glue to seal eyelids and hold fingers together, lips sewn neatly shut, caustic chemicals painted on or pumped into this body sealed beneath the crow. All these things she must undo before the soul can be returned, and the bird carries the knowledge of these tasks in her skull, knows them now as she knows the sweet, greasy smell of roadkill on summer asphalt miles away, as she knows the simple routine of her life.

A silent flash of lightning far away, toward the swamps where the storm has retreated. The crow blinks her weary eyes and pecks once at the bronze sculpture. The sound echoes softly through the necropolis around her. There's a faint scratch where her sharp beak struck the burnished metal, and she pecks at the boy's shoulder again.

It makes a sound she can feel through her feet, a sound that reverberates within the marble confines of the mausoleum, growing louder in the dark spaces along the walls, louder still inside the newest coffin on its granite pedestal, amplified instead of dulled by passage through stone and steel.

Selective, though, this magic She has come for one man, and one man only. The man who sleeps beside him will hear nothing, his ill-used, pieced-together body remaining in stasis, indifferent to what has begun. The crow's dagger beak strikes the acroterion a third and final time, and now there is movement inside the mausoleum, inside the newest coffin.

The thread that holds the dead man's thin lips closed tugs itself free, drawn out through needlepoint incisions, and falls away. The cyanoacrylate that holds his eyelids closed, that holds his fingers together across his chest, becomes brittle and then becomes no more than dust. These things are simple though, and the crow shudders, captured now in the dark and irreversible process she has started.

The long incisions in the abdomen reject their stitches also and begin to heal, flesh knitting as if in time-lapse photography. The crow cries out again, giving up parts of herself to the accelerating restoration of the body below, life chasing death. Even the bird's mind understands the wrongness in these actions, the violation of an order more primal and sacred than all the religions of mankind, but she is helpless to withdraw.

She huddles on the mausoleum roof and feels her life borrowed, the measured draining of her life for the working of these magics.

There are escape clauses built into the fabric of the universe, undeniable rules that have brought her here. The crow knows none of this, only that she should be moving, flying swiftly and high and far, far away from this soulless place where the

memory of life lies pinned beneath heavy stone.

Still more stitches ravel, and the body bleeds not blood but an acrid hemorrhage of embalming fluid, milky spray from opened arteries. The heart is shocked rudely back to life, pumping alien liquid through desiccated veins, and this time the crow does not caw, she
screams
as the body beneath her expels four gallons of embalming fluid into its coffin. A pulsing stream from the carotid, from an incision in the upper arm and another in the groin, until the circulatory system is completely empty, purged, and the Lazarus heart pumps only formaldehyde-stinking air.

As the open arteries knit themselves closed again, another trick is turned and the crow trembles on her perch, sick and maybe dying; she would believe herself dying if she understood death as such. Blood from the genetic memory of pickled cells, water from wine, pours from the heart to fill the parched pathways of arteries, veins, and capillaries. The crow spreads her wings in sudden panic and pain, black feathers against the growing night, as the lips of the dead man part. Collapsed lungs heave, then expand and contract, forcing more bitter fluid out past his rouged lips, fighting to draw precious breath for the first time in five days, coughing, vomiting death. The crow folds her wings again, hurting, but this part is done, at least; this part is over.

The bird crouches on the immaculate bronze victim and listens and waits for whatever has to happen next. Far away, toward Lake Pont-chartrain and restless waters the color of bad coffee, there is the gentle, threatening sound of thunder.

He has no memory of waking, only the sudden, jolting knowledge that he
is
awake, the impossible pain of the first breath. There's something filling his mouth, and his cold tongue struggles to push it aside, to spit out the sodden, cottony mass. His eyes are on fire, like when he was a child and caught pinkeye and his mother held a warm washcloth to his face to soften the crust that sealed his eyes shut. If she were here, she might do that for him now, might take away his confusion and pain.

But she is not here. Jared Poe, who knows little else, knows this much: that he is alone, beyond alone, somewhere more solitary than alone can ever be. Smothering in that certainty, he exhales, a jagged, rattling sound that could be final breath instead of rebirth, and he opens his eyes.

Even the diffuse light around him is blinding after so profound a night, after such complete and perfect darkness. Jared Poe shuts his eyes again, tightly, before the glare burns away his thin lids and leaves him helpless to stare into it forever.

I was dreaming,
he thinks.
I dreamed I was flying.
A useless little thought mired in so much agony, the pain that soaks every inch of his body, coalescent with the stinking wetness around him. His chest heaves, a sudden, involuntary gasp, the contraction of too many unused muscles at once. His back arches as the air is forced out again.

Something vile fills his throat, fluids driven from his lungs or stomach or both, now spilling out of his mouth.

I was flying above New Orleans with black wings,
he thinks. The next gasp makes him bite his tongue, a little harder and he might have bitten it in half. His mouth fills with cleansing, living warmth, iron-water taste to wash away the bitter burn of chemicals. He rolls onto his side, coughing, reaching for the shreds of dream already fading, slipping from him before he can be sure they were even his.
Flying above New Orleans,
and then a clearer thought, like drawing that first breath again-
I was dead.

Jared Poe screams inside his coffin, puts the oxygen forcing its way into his unwilling lungs to good use. He screams against the hateful flood of memory, the images that follow from what he cannot deny-
I was dead.
Flashpowder revelations as unwanted as the life flowing back into him and the death leaking out. The big Cuban motherfucker with the. 35 Magnum tattooed on his right arm, the Virgin Mary on his left, and when Jared looked down, the hand shoving the sharpened spoon into his gut. Pushing it in, the metal going deeper and deeper, twisting. Another scream and the sound of steel bars sliding shut inside the carefully constructed hell of Angola.

Lockdown. Jared's stiff hands clench. He pounds the padded satin walls of his new prison.

A little farther into himself and the stale library smell of the courthouse comes back, the condemning sound of the gavel and the vindicated mutter of the crowd as the verdict was read aloud, the doughy fat woman with ill-fitting dentures who read the words to the judge, all the faces he didn't know.

"That's far
enough
-" Jared Poe is making words with the screams, with his fury and the impact of his fists against the walls of the coffin. "That's fucking far enough! I don't want to see any more!"

But there is so much more to see, so many more little supernovas going off behind his eyes, and every explosion is another secret he wants to keep from himself, another piece of the almighty shitty puzzle he's trying not to solve.

The cigarette and sweat smell of the police car, the handcuffs biting into his wrists. "We ought to just drive over to Algiers," the cop in the passenger seat said. "You know

that, Henry? We ought to just drive this faggot pervert son-of-a-bitch right over the river and let him suck on a gun. Blow his murdering brains out." The cop behind the wheel just laughed, is laughing still, like the frantic wings of black birds in burning cages, and Jared feels the metal of the coffin begin to buckle around him.

BOOK: The Lazarus Heart
4.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Sand Fish by Maha Gargash
Double Happiness by Mary-Beth Hughes
Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse
Pym by Mat Johnson
Wicked Dreams by Lily Harper Hart
The Visitors by Patrick O'Keeffe