The Resurrection began right on time. The rapping started as soon as the shadows in my study merged into a deeper darkness. I tossed down the rest of my whiskey and walked to the front door. I opened it wide and looked out at my creation.
“Hello, Molly,” I said to the familiar stranger on my doorstep. They had done a helluva job on her face. It was lifelike, even.
“Can I come in, Sweetie?” The attempted singsong of her question came off flat.
“No,” I answered. I knew the rules. I closed the door.
My Spring and Summer of the Resurrection settled into an uneasy routine of macabre nocturnal beseechment. I was blessed by latitude. Summer nights are short up here, so as the days lengthened I didn’t have to listen to the creature at the door for more than eight or nine hours at a time.
Sometimes my visitor would beg and make promises. In weak moments, I would look out at the stark white face under hair that blended with the night. I looked, and I remembered as much as I could stand.
Sometimes it stood beneath the ancient tree with the fresh wounds shining in its bark. The woman-creature would coo in an almost familiar voice, “I remember what you like.”
Sometimes there were threats. That which had been my wife would come close to wailing, crying out, “Save me, or I will tell the Journal everything!” I doubted the threats almost as much I disbelieved the promises, but I always called my buddy at the Journal just in case.
Mostly there were just sobs. I never could stand seeing Molly cry. Even though the thing beyond my door was not Molly, its tears still stabbed at my chest.
It always left by sunrise. Sunlight is hell on tactile circuitry.
On the first night of August I found atypical courage at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. I went outside, and it looked up at me without a hint of surprise. The moon shone pale upon the thing’s paler face. We stared at each other for a long minute until it spoke.
“We had a Resurrection Contract, Davy.” The eyes that locked with mine remained almost blue.
“We had a marriage, too,” I said, “but you didn’t give a shit about that, so I don’t give a shit about the Resurrection Contract.”
The black hair fell across the face as its head swiveled down to examine the toes of its Italian leather boots. Then the head popped back up. The near-blue eyes bored into mine. I squirmed on their skewer.
“You have to affirm the Contract, Davy. Otherwise, I’ll be deactivated.” It almost looked sad at the prospect.
“Your circuits are showing.”
A pale hand shot up to the faint seam on the delicate face where shards from the windshield of her boyfriend’s car had sliced her head open two days before our divorce was going to be final.
“I don’t mean that way. Don’t worry, Babe, they patched you up good.” I went back inside.
My undead almost ex-wife keening on my front porch every night was a rich guy’s kind of problem. Just signing up with Eternacorp cost more than most people make in a lifetime, and after that those monthly memory scans added up fast. In the sales pitch before I invested, the zombie-masters told me they could pull each month in and out of you like a memory card, that way you wouldn’t have to spend eternity with the bad bits of your life. I guess Molly wanted to remember all of it, even the parts I wanted to forget. She kept getting scanned, each and every month, even after we split up. I got the bills, so I knew.
The hell of it all was that those Eternacorp fuckers couldn’t have gotten into business in the first place without my help. It was my venture capital that paid for their zombie-works, I’d spent an even larger fortune lobbying for them to be allowed to get into the business of undeath at all. Back then Molly and I wanted to live—well, exist—together forever in the Eternacorp Subterranean Community. Politicians and bureaucrats had objected to the idea of mucking about with the line between life and death for the sake of profit, but that was nothing compared to the furor of the talking heads behind anchor desks and the preachers in pulpits. I just wanted to spend forever with my sweetie, but they thought that me and the rest of the Eternacorp crew were evil incarnate. I fought them all off with millions of dollars spent on lobbyists, and with tens of millions to start friendly think tanks focused on “reimagining life after death.” I made hefty donations to more charities and churches than I ever thought could exist, not so much to buy friends as to procure a cease fire.
Eternacorp couldn’t afford that kind of political leverage before I got involved, but I could. And I did. How can you put a price on forever? I managed to keep Big Government from outlawing our plans for the afterlife; the Feds just regulated the shit out of Eternacorp once the public moved on to the next scandal.
The first resurrection cost Eternacorp even more than they had anticipated. My buddy with the Journal told me the zombie-works was burning cash fast. The few other people who could afford their services were more squeamish than Molly and I had been, but Eternacorp was holding off its creditors with the promise of the first Resurrection Contract being affirmed. Affirming the Contract would put them in place to eventually take over all my worldly assets, everything four generations of my predecessors had built. I was the sole owner of the whole thing since my prick brother died without a will or any other heir when he wrapped his car around the tree out front, my bitch wife beside him.
My family couldn’t teach me how to run a business, but they did teach me how to keep secrets. My great-great grandfather had built his estate, now my estate, behind high walls to protect him from the communists he was sure were going to try to seize his means of production. We kept our secrets behind those walls. When I got pulled over with powder cocaine all over the dashboard, when my brother got arrested with the streetwalker, when my mother overdosed on her pills—Father hushed them all up, lest the hoi polloi start thinking too much about those rich people up in the hills outside of town.
I’d learned the old man’s lessons well. I fired all of the servants first thing after I returned from identifying the bodies of Molly and my brother. My lawyer gave them a generous severance in exchange for a renewed confidentiality agreement, and he hushed up the story from the morgue at his ample hourly rate, plus expenses. I talked to the Editor-in-Chief at the Journal about maybe buying the paper—a conversation that held both a promise and a threat, depending on whether the paper saw fit to trouble its readers with tawdry news of old money dabbling with the undead.
During the days, I had the mansion to myself with only my memories for companions. During the nights, I couldn’t hide from what had been Molly. My lawyer assured me that a breach of the Resurrection Contract on my part would affirm it by operation of law. I believed him, since he’s the one I’d paid to write the damn law in the first place. The Contract required me to allow the Resurrected to come to my doorstep every night and beseech me to affirm my bargain with death. For six months I had to let the Eternacorp car with the heavily tinted windows park by the gate, and then I had to let that thing shuffle up the driveway as soon as the sun was down.
Every night I drank while my visitor called to me. Every day I collapsed under the weight of the dying night. During the daylight hours I dreamed of a time before the undead walked the Earth and wailed upon my doorstep.
I dreamed of playboy days, of booze and drugs and women. Father said my kid brother and me would ruin the business, that we would piss everything away. We got our chance to try and prove him right when his plane crashed. Stu and I got it all: the shipping empire that began with a single boat my great-great-grandfather sailed on Lake Superior, the banks my great-grandfather started in the ashes of the Crash, my grandfather’s factories, and my father’s hedge fund. A single one of those fortunes could have bought all the drugs and all the whores in the world, and that summer I dreamed of the years I spent trying to do just that. I dreamed hazes of pain and elation.
In my dreams the fog parted around a raven-haired woman with a pale face. Molly had been a trust fund party girl until the trust fund ran out. Once it was empty, she was just a poor girl with expensive habits. Maybe she thought using me was her idea all along, but in my dreams, as in my memories, I was the one who insisted on lavishly rewarding her affections. As I tossed and vomited on my grandfather’s Persian rugs, she seduced me over and over again in my mind.
Marrying Molly didn’t end the drugs or the whores. We used both with equal enthusiasm, and always together. I don’t know which she liked more; she preferred both at once. Even after I knew that I had to get sober, I remained in that haze too long just to admire her, to see her struggle in her own web of agony and pleasure. She always seemed so alive, savoring each gram we bought and every woman we rented. Even when the paramedics had to come to resuscitate her and rush her to the hospital, there was something vibrant about her on the stretcher. And there was me, always me, in orbit around Molly’s exposed body. I dreamed of a pale sun.
I dreamed of the last crash that convinced me to get sober, of my fatigued return to the ancestral home to escape prying eyes and temptation. I dreamed of Duluth spread out beyond the shutters in mid-summer sunshine. Even in my dreams, Molly hated the cold winters, hated the decay. Hated the isolation. Hated me for moving back.
I dreamed of a promise of forever, of scans and images and probes. I dreamed of a plan to forge my own empire, an empire built upon eternity using my worldly wealth. An empire underground, protected from the degrading sun, a kingdom of two.
I dreamed of my brother’s wing of the mansion, of a hastily grabbed dress and retreating footsteps echoing with betrayal. I dreamed of lawyers and recriminations and a phone call at two in the morning. Of bodies on a cold steel table, of “yes, that’s her” and “yes, that’s him.” Of returning to empty the mansion with hush money.
The past haunted my dreams as the long summer days shortened into fall. When the dreams turned to a haze of whiskey I would awake in vomit and urine. Then I would phone my attorney to slur instructions, threats, and promises. The shadows would grow long again while I spoke on the phone.
Then, when the shadows all joined together to pitch black, the demon would return.
The nights grew longer as summer waned. When the bare tree in the front yard caught the harvest moon in its branches, I knew the end was nigh. The regulations on Resurrection Contracts were clear: the Resurrected Party had six months to beseech the Surviving Party to affirm the contract by word or deed. Once affirmed, the financial arrangements of the Resurrection Contract for Eternal Maintenance would become irrevocable. If not affirmed, the Contract would become null and void and my fortune would remain mine. If that happened, Eternacorp’s lines of credit would be called and the zombie-masters would be out of money and out of business.
I poured a glass of whiskey at sundown the final night, just like always. It started yelling out front as soon as the sun dropped below the horizon, before I had even gulped down my first glass.
“Please, Davy. I don’t even know what I did!” The whimper almost sounded like a sob.
The tinge of something in the voice — maybe innocence, maybe naiveté, maybe manipulation — made me grab a jacket and go to the porch. This was the last night. Surely I could face it this one last time, I thought. I went out into the chill.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” I asked before it could even look up at me.
When the face turned up, the eyes were dull, but wide. “They took the last two years of memory scans out of me . . . the last thing I remember was us in Monaco.”
I don’t know why I smiled at it then, but I did. “That was a good time,” I said. I gestured to a bench on the porch.
“Are you affirming?” It asked.
I shook my head. “No, but I’ll sit with you.”
We sat side by side for a long time. October nights are cold up here. I shivered under the pale moon. Paler yet, that which was not my wife sat stock still beside me. Finally I asked, “Do you want to go back to Monaco?”
“If you want to,” it answered.
“But what do you want?”
Silence. The thing had no answer, no desire to articulate. My ragged breath was the only sound beneath the old tree’s bony fingers.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said, “but this has to end.”
“I know.” It paused. “Will you tell me what I did?”
“I would rather neither of us remembered that.”
We sat in uncomfortable silence for another long while. The full moon escaped the clutches of the tree branches and fled over the mansion.
“If this is the end, will you talk to me until the sun rises?” There was maybe a catch in its voice.
“Okay,” I answered carefully, “Until the sun rises. What happens then?”
“I’m trying not to remember.” The whispered answer sounded a lot like Molly.
For hours in the dark, I told the thing that had been my wife stories of our life together, of terrible fights and wonderful reconciliations. I described parties and orgies and our fight when I said we were moving back to Duluth.
As the horizon before us pinkened, a cold hand took mine. “Keep going,” it said. So I talked about how we fought and reconciled that first winter back in the mansion, making up right there in the snow, her too high and me too excited to feel the cold bite our flesh.
I left out the final betrayal she committed rather than endure my temporary stint of sobriety. I wish I could remove those memory scans from my brain, too.
The icy grip tightened on my hand when the sun’s disk swung over the horizon. I kept talking with my eyes on the sun as something hissed and bubbled beside me. When the shadows cast by the tree’s bare branches reached for me, I felt the hand loosen, then fall away. When the shadow’s fingers finally grabbed me, I looked to my side. Mostly it was just her old clothes and some bits of circuits in a pile beside me. I try not to think about the rest of it.
I buried the clothes and circuits and the rest under the ancient tree in the front yard, finishing a fresh bottle of whiskey as I worked. Then I slept and did not dream.
Author’s Note: This story was originally published at Odd Directions.