For the next month, my lessons in necromancy continue as normal- or, as normal as you’d expect. I found that it’s not just magic, but it’s science, and that I can pick up with ease.
Still, I often go to bed with shards of glass rattling in my skull. I’ve learned how to sustain a variety of dead wildlife, but as soon as I cut off our connection, it’s like a part of me returns to the darkness with them.
I asked Grandma about this, and she told me that with time came endurance, that it was like learning to play the guitar. Overtime, your fingers grow callous and you grow numb to the pain. In the meantime, she gave me Tylenol to soothe my headaches.
The lessons grew to be so laborious; I almost didn’t have time to ponder the implications of the undead birds mysterious parcel, or even Jasmines threats against me (but to be fair, I didn’t take her very seriously to begin with) I kept the picture book beneath my pillow, and on nights where my headaches weren’t all consuming, I’d pull it out and flip through it, determined to find some answers.
Now, a month had passed.
When Grandma wakes me in the morning, I don’t drowsily wonder where I am. As we walk into the kitchen, I no longer miss the smell of my moms cooking. (Would it be overdramatic to say, I don’t even remember what it smells like?) This swamp feels like a dream I’ve stopped questioning. I eat my breakfast without a fuss.
Grandmas gotten her hands on another chair from somewhere, but she doesn’t eat anything. Sometimes I wonder if she herself is undead. She’s looking at me like she wants to say something, so I set down my fork and meet her eyes.
“I’d like to show you something. Could you please go and get dressed?”
I nod and push myself away from the table. I return to my room and open my wardrobe. Grandma bought me some new clothes last week, stating that the ones I bought wouldn’t last me. I don’t feel like wearing them though. Not even the pretty blue dress with pockets. Instead, I grab my old purple t-shirt with a bumblebee graphic, and the same pair of jean shorts I wore yesterday. I hunt around for my socks, and double knot my shoes.
Grandma is waiting for me in the kitchen, “I’m ready.” I say.
From behind me, I feel my familiar hopping down the hall. I’m sure I haven’t given her the attention she deserves, but I’m not sure what the care of keeping an undead frog entail; she stops beside my feet, and I lean down to pick her up.
I did try cleaning her up a bit. She could almost pass for a live frog now. Still, I can’t help but be unnerved by my familiar, and I know it’s not because she’s dead. After weeks of dealing with rotting corpses, I’ve grown entirely numb to dank smells and slimy entrails.
“Have you named her yet?” Grandma asks in reference to my frog. I shake my head.
“Nothing fits,” I say.
Grandma nods and before I know it, we’re out the door. The bright sun burns my eyes. I have to squint, even when we turn into the trees and away from the sun.
We walk in the same direction we did when we heard Jasmine scream. Grandma walks much faster than me, and I almost have to sprint to keep pace. I consider holding her hand, like I did with Mom when I was much younger, but I immediately dislike the idea.
The hills up ahead, much squatter than I remember. The trees part slightly, and I once again see the headstone Jasmine and I hid behind when we were attacked by the alligator.
As Grandma takes us up the hill, I wonder if that’s what we’re going to see- the undead alligator I- Killed? Defeated? I’m not sure what term to use here, so I shut down that train of thought.
We aren’t quite above the tree line, but we have a full view of the sun. It beats down on the hill, casting us in a massive spotlight. It’s like we’re on top of the world.
I turn and look at Grandma. Her face is grim, and she’s older than I’ve ever seen her. She staggers forward like she’s about to collapse. I hastily follow after her, in case that in fact does come to pass.
She says to me, “Kimberly, did your mother ever tell you what happened to your father?”
I freeze. Despite the summer heat, chills down my spine. “No,” I say, “She didn’t.”
Grandma nods. She gestures towards the other side of the grave. With agonizing slowness, like I’m swimming through molasses, I pace forward and around the massive grave, until I’m standing right in front of it.
It’s taller than me, I think. My heart beats painfully against my rib cage. I might kneel over and die right here. The world’s gone blurry, and it takes me too long to focus my eyes enough to read the words imprinted on the grave.
Born November 20th, 1985
Died August 25th, 2012
I didn’t say anything as Grandma stood beside me, “He died right in front of me, of a heart attack. There was nothing to be done. Your mother wasn’t home, and this is before I had my own phone. I was completely alone.” She’s crying, but I don’t turn to look at her, “I know he would’ve loved to meet you. You’ve grown up to be a wonderful person. Your father would’ve been proud.”
I stare at the large block letters marking the grave, down at the grass between my feet, then up at Grandmother, who is shaking from head to toe.
“I never knew him.” I say, “But you did. I’m so sorry.”
Grandma sniffles, it rattles her whole body, “I’ll leave you alone,” she says. “I’ll be just down the hill.”
“Okay,” I say. I watch her disappear over the hill.
Then, I turn toward my fathers grave.