Vial Things (A Resurrectionist Novel Book 1), page 1
A Resurrectionist Novel (Book 1)
By Leah Clifford
A Resurrectionist Novel (Book 1)
By Leah Clifford
Copyright © 2016 Leah Clifford
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of very brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and co-incidental.
Cover design by Jeremy West
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Amber, who made it happen
Scott, who made it real
Table of Contents
About the Author
When the call for the job comes in just past midnight, there aren’t many details—a teenager, an accidental drowning, and an address. The street name tells me the place will be colossal, so I expect the columned entryway over the shoulder of the girl who answers the door, the expertly lighted canvases on the walls. Even the grand piano in the great room doesn’t come as a surprise.
I don’t even need you to collect any payment, Aunt Sarah had said. Come on, Allie, it’s a huge favor. If there’s no payment, I’m guessing there’s some sort of way back favor owed between my aunt and the girl’s mom. One of those ‘If you’re ever in trouble’ things. Or maybe Sarah knows not to push the issue of the money with me.
“Time of death?” I say as I slide past the weeping girl who answered the door.
When the rare person who knows about us makes the call for help, I’m sure they half expect some gothic voodoo priestess to show up on their doorstep. An eighteen-year-old in shorts and a tank top, blond hair in a messy bun, tends to throw them off. I’m used to being met with hesitation.
Right now though, I don’t have time to set her at ease. “We’re on a deadline. You called about a boy. How long ago did he die?”
“A few minutes,” the girl stutters, and begins wringing her already reddened hands. “An hour? It couldn’t have been more than an hour before I called Sarah.” She closes the door. Her tears appear to have tapered for now. I wonder if they were mostly theatrics. A straggling hiccup escapes as she eyes me. “She said she was sending a guy.”
“Yeah, well you got me.” I tug my burner phone from the pocket of my jeans and check the time. Dead an hour, plus the thirty minutes it took me to get here means we’re halfway to the point of no return. Every passing minute risks another complication. “Where’s the body?”
“S…Simon,” she says. “His name is Simon.”
“Right. Simon.” I scan the scene. Beer bottles and a few red cups line the kitchen table. Abandoned on one of the bar stools are an empty bottle of Jack Daniels and a trio of shot glasses, tipped over. “And this Simon’s your boyfriend?” I ask.
I’m only making small talk to keep the girl calm. She shakes her head.
“He lives down the street. I didn’t even know he came,” she says, already leading the way through the house, toward the rear door.
“He’s here,” the girl whispers, opening a sliding glass door to a patio. Beside the water of the pool lies a boy a couple years younger than me, about sixteen from first look. A wet puddle darkens the concrete around him.
At the shallow end of the pool, I spot the blurred brown splotch of a sunken bottle. The filter gurgles. A Styrofoam noodle floats languidly in the water.
Aside from the dead body, nothing seems amiss. The glow from the pool lights is poor, which is actually a plus. We don’t need any witnesses. “Anybody else see him like this?” I ask. “Neighbors?”
“No. Just me. I found him. My mom knows Sarah.”
“Yeah,” I say, slipping my messenger bag off my shoulder. “Sarah and my mom knew each other, too.”
‘Knew’, past tense. I don’t know why I say it at all. Sarah’s my aunt. I could have bypassed the mention of my mom altogether. The girl’s expression shifts from nervous to confused the moment the word registers.
I focus on unzipping my bag with a vague hope she won’t have the balls to ask why I didn’t bother to save my own mother. There’s a pause where she waits for me to fill in the blanks. Another when I don’t. “You are a resurrectionist, though, right?” she says finally with newfound skepticism.
“I can go if you want,” I snap. I’ll take any excuse to pack up and get out of here. This isn’t exactly my idea of a fun Saturday night. Three months ago I’d told myself I was walking away from this life for good once I made it to Fissure’s Whipp.
But I couldn’t walk away from blood. Not when Sarah was all I had left as far as family.
In my head, her voice reverberates. We demand payment for a damned reason, Allie. And then quieter, It’s more important to be owed than collect. The shame keeps them from talking about us.
I sink to the concrete and start setting up, digging into the bag for one of the boxes inside. From it comes a syringe, sealed in plastic. Seeing it will make her think I’m injecting him with some sort of drug instead of my own blood. For now, I leave the rubber strap I’ll use to tie off my arm inside the bag and out of her sight.
“Can you help me?” I ask as I strip away the protective plastic layer on the syringe.
Usually, when I show up at a job, whoever found the body is frantic. This girl seems to be holding her own. Rich kids tend to think their parent’s money is a bubble, protecting them from birth, sweeping problems under the rug for the servants to deal with. And with the money we’re paid for what we do, they tend to be right. Still, it’s better to give her a job, something to focus on before she takes it upon herself to question me about my mother. “Can you get some blankets? He’ll need to be warmed up once I do my thing.”
I take my first good look at the body.
After death, there are certain reactions, flags to tell me it’s too late, that the victim is too far gone. The pale pallor is normal and expected. The dark coloring where his skin touches the concrete is not, especially because he died in the water and was moved after.
Blood is liquid. When the heart stops pumping, that liquid starts settling half an hour after death, pooling at the points closest to the ground. From this angle though, his eyes already look deeply sunken. It must be shadows. A trick of the light.
If she was right about the time.
“You were having a party?” I ask. I turn in time to watch the color fade from her cheeks.
This close, I can smell the alcohol on her breath. Dread curls in my stomach. “When was the party?” I ask quietly.
“This afternoon?” Her chin trembles. “I passed out. Everyone was gone!” she says. She scoots closer to me, eyes anime-wide, wet and brimming. “I called as soon as I got him out of the pool. I promise. You can still save him, right?”
I reach forward for the boy’s arm and try to lift it. His muscles are locked, frozen in rigor mortis. Not a chance in hell, I think. Aside from the time limits, anyone at that party could have seen him die before they took off. If he shows up in town, a bunch of teenagers start whispering zombie or miracle. Either one draws too much attention to people like me. Our resurrections are regimented for a reason.
“I’ll pay extra,” she blurts, as if it were so simple. As if I can rewind time for a couple extra twenties.
“I would have thought Sarah tapped you out,” I mumble. Her friend’s toast. It’s everything I can do to keep the mask of confidence on my face as I raise my voice. “I’ll do what I can,” I lie.
Glancing around the yard, I spot a latched gate. Common sense suggests it’ll lead to the driveway.
It’s better to look like things are going according to plan. Right now, I’m this girl’s savior. When she realizes I can’t deliver...well, some people get violent when their miracle doesn’t come to pass after all. I’ve got a nice scar from a knife wound two years ago to prove it.
“Hey!” I say too brightly. “Let me get to work and you go get those blankets, okay?”
She bobbles her head in a relieved nod and smiles through her tears. “Of course. Anything. Thank you,” she murmurs as starts toward the house. The genuine gratitude in her voice only ups my level of discomfort. “Thank you so, so much.”
She’s nearly at the door when I toss the syringe into the bag. It takes everything in me to wait until she’s inside before I scramble for the gate. In my rush I knock over a lawn chair. A dog barks. Inside the house, a light goes on upstairs.
I’m out the gate and running full tilt down the street long before she knows I’m gone.
There’s a hole in my sneaker. Right in the sole, near my toes.
A few train cars back, I’d stepped in a puddle and now water squelches with every step I take. The shoes are held together mostly with duct tape anyway, but I don’t know when I’ll come across another pair. They’ve got to at least last me the rest of the summer.
“Perfect,” I grumble as I head into camp.
Grabbing the bottom of my grey undershirt, I mop sweat off my forehead. The humidity from the rain earlier hangs in the air. Everything’s saturated and steaming. A metallic tang sits in the back of my throat. When it’s wet, the rusting metal of the boxcars smells like blood.
The train’s not moving—it hasn’t in over a decade, the derelict cars abandoned by the city in a station no longer used. But just because the city abandoned them doesn’t mean the rest of us have.
I concentrate on the crunch of the gravel, listening to be sure no one comes up behind me. A marsh bird calls from the swamp beyond the yard and my skin crawls. It’s not the bird though.
It’s the quiet.
I keep my eyes on the weeds sprawling from behind the orange-colored iron of the wheels. The thinnest trace of a moon lights my way.
On a normal night, at least a few campfires would be burning. Small, just a few sticks and coals to warm up a can of something scrounged for dinner, not enough to draw attention. Tonight the place seems empty. I’m not stupid enough to believe it actually is. Eyes are on me as I pass each car. The mood means one of two things—either the cops were here busting up the place again or something bad happened.
I don’t bother checking for my knife; I can feel it on my hip. A quick move and it’s in my hand. The camp is a dangerous place. Muscles don’t matter when you’ve got a shiv buried in your spine and paranoia will get you much farther than strength. Tension drizzles down, soaks my skin like the sudden rainstorm an hour ago. I try to remember to breathe.
Mostly, the boxcar camp branches off into two groups—the vets and hobos down at this end and my group, the younger generation of gutter punks and street kids, at the other, split into junkies and those of us who haven’t gotten caught up in that stuff yet. A hunchbacked man sits swinging his feet in the open door of one of the train cars. I’m barely able to make out his shadowy figure. The old man doesn’t acknowledge me. I return the favor.
I hike up the fifty pound pack I’m wearing and tighten the straps. The sleeping bag, in its makeshift black garbage bag of a cover, scrunches plastic against my neck with each step. I’d adjust it, but I’ll be taking it off soon. It’s a waste to bother with now.
I trudge on, leery. I’ve got close to twenty bucks in tattered ones and some change in my pocket. In my pack is a paper-wrapped sub I gaffled from a small outdoor café while whoever ordered it was in the bathroom. They hadn’t even taken a bite.
Any other night, I’d be around a cook fire, splitting the sub up in exchange for a cup of stew made from whatever everyone else contributed. You don’t share, you don’t eat. But with the eerie calm in the camp, I’m thinking it’d be safer to tear Brandon off half and call it good. Finally, I reach our boxcar.
I unclip the belt of the backpack and swing it into the car. The bang of the metal reverberates through that damned hole in my sneaker as I jump up and in.
“Brandon?” I call. “Get your ass up, I brought you food.” I drop to one knee and loosen the drawstrings holding my bag shut. It’s too dark to see. Searching the pocket I usually keep my headlamp in, I come out empty-handed. “Brand!”
I give the silence a second to see if I can hear him stretch and wonder if he might not be here. We’ve gotten to be decent friends in the two months we’ve been splitting the boxcar, both of us more bark than bite. He plays the part with tattoos and more metal in his face than change in his pockets. His piercings make the gauges in my ears look tame. A look and a drawn blade get the job done just as well in my book. Over the winter, I’d added a bar through my eyebrow with a safety pin heated to a molten red. Bad idea, infection-wise. Plus, I don’t wanna mess with my face much. Sometimes looking like trouble invites trouble.
“You here?” I ask, though I have a feeling I’m alone. Brandon has a thing for taking off at night, long walks he doesn’t tolerate questions about. He has heavy secrets. Soon enough, though, he’ll spill them. Part of getting people to tell you what you want to know is convincing them you don’t give a damn.
When there’s no noise from the general area of Brandon’s bedroll, I go back to digging in my pack. My fingers snag the headlamp. I click it on, hold it in my mouth by the strap and grab the sandwich. The scent of fresh French bread wafts through the car before I can even peel the paper away. My stomach rolls, greedy. I can’t remember the last time I ate.
Transferring the headlamp to a hand, I shove the food into my mouth, take an enormous bite of bread, shrimp and lettuce. My moan’s pleasure-filled enough that it would be embarrassing if I could be bothered to care. The only worry I have now is getting the sandwich into my stomach fast enough that I won’t feel guilty when Brandon shows up and there’s nothing left. I dry-swallow the bread and go for a second bite, the paper wrapper crinkling loudly. Almost as an afterthought, I flick the light around the corrugated inside of the car.
Brand’s curled up in his bedroll.
I chew once more, and then slip the light around my neck to free up a hand. There’s no way he didn’t hear me talking to him. Not only that, but he’s not in the normal spot. Instead, he’s in the back corner, pressed against the wall. My spot.
My fingers drift across the handle of my knife. He’s not even between the blanket and sheet. They’re both draped over top of him. I creep closer, the sandwich clutched in my hand. Nights like this, the blanket’s only cushion; it’
In a single move, I drop the sandwich and grab for the blanket and sheet, rip them aside.
“Jesus.” The word comes out a breath. He’s on his side, turned toward the wall. I move to roll him over and my foot crunches down on a layer of congealed blood and lettuce. Gore is puddled beneath his body. The skin that should be covering his stomach drapes to each side in ragged flaps. He’s carved out. Hollowed.
Whoever killed him took his guts with them.
I grab my bag and jump from the car, the sandwich forgotten, the body uncovered. I’ve already passed half the boxcars before I can stop my hands from wiping furiously against my jeans.
The double set of railroad tracks leads out of camp, into the city. I cross and pass the first of a tenement of rough hewn shacks. I should go back. I should call the cops, tell someone, do something. But I’m not that guy anymore, the one who goes charging in and does the right thing. Instead, I force a deep breath. I tuck my head low and merge into the crowd of tourists, eager to blend, disappear, be nothing.
I don’t make it far. Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, I bend over, my hands on my knees. The sudden motion throws my pack forward and knocks me off balance. I land hard on my knees.
I’d been stuffing my face while he’d been lifeless behind me, guts and gore and missing parts. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t part of the plan.
“Watch it, asshole,” a guy yells right behind me. I don’t need to see him to know he’s just another drunken fratboy tourist. “Homeless piece of shit,” he adds.
I tense, wait for the inevitable boot to the stomach but it doesn’t come. When I glance up, I see the pack of them staggering into one of the bars along the disarmingly quaint-looking main street. In the heat, even at night, the whole town smells like spilled liquor and vomit.
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