“I feel wonderful! Whatever it is they gave you, it really does the trick.” She threw her arms around me. For a time I sat there, deep relief coursing through me. Happy simply to be holding my wife again, even though she was still distressingly cold. When her mother and father arrived by cab I insisted on paying their travel expenses. Both wept openly the moment they saw her emerge from the house, dress flowing behind her in the wind.
I could understand none of it. A solid ten minutes or more of incomprehensible Russian blubbering as the two took turns embracing her, touching her face and otherwise convincing themselves that she’d truly returned to the land of the living.
“It was this one!” her father proudly thundered, throwing one arm around me and clasping my back with the other. “You never gave up on our little girl. To the last. No doubt, you pay for finest medical treatment. Fool doctor still confuses her for death, but I can only sing of my happiness that she is return. A miracle from God.”
No sense disputing any of it. If they were willing to accept it so easily, I was content to let them, without providing any of the discomforting details. I sensed Annika wanted to tell them, and resolved to keep an eye on her in order to prevent it.
They spent all day with us, simply eager to be around Annika. To laugh with her, to take tea, gushing with relief that the Lord in his infinite mercy had seen fit to restore their daughter. All the while I tensely watched, wondering.
“I do not think it was a miracle”, she started. The two appeared confused. Before she could go on, I interjected. “What she means is, there are many matters of physiology not yet understood. We should not be hasty to proclaim something supernatural has transpired. The Vatican, after all, has its own process for determining that. We must not presume to know better. Nor am I in any hurry to rock the boat by publishing such astonishing claims. And really, is it ours to ask why? I think not, let us simply be thankful.”
Both considered it, then nodded sternly. Annika stared at me with visible irritation. When her parents finally headed off, we got to arguing about how much even our immediate families should be told about the circumstances of her return. “You didn’t tell me everything. I know it now. If it was as you said, you’d not have hesitated to tell them. What really happened? What is it you injected me with? I’ll know if you’re lying.”
As difficult as ever to hide anything from her. She knows me too well. So at last, I told her the whole story. All the while she sat opposite me on the couch, eyes wide, hands over her mouth. “Come”, I urged, “surely I did the right thing? Was I really to turn them down? You’ve been given a new life.” She slowly turned to stare at me, eyes still wide and now beginning to tremble. “But I’m not alive, Charles. Am I.”
I searched for some way to disagree but found nothing. The more she discovered, the more difficult it was to talk about it in delicate terms. She fought my every effort to pretend it was something other than what it was. “I’m…an animated corpse. How did you do this? No, you couldn’t. It was those men, wasn’t it?” she continued to interrogate me, slowly growing more upset as the picture became clear to her.
“I’m not supposed to be here, Charles. What have you done? I’m so cold. I shouldn’t be here. I’m dead. I belong in the ground. So cold. What have you done?” The more I tried to console her, the more panicked she became. So I embraced her slender frame, holding her tight until it passed. I could hear crying. But when I held her before me and studied her face, no tears were coming out.
“Make love to me.” I tensed up. Somehow this eventuality hadn’t occurred to me, in all the excitement. Hesitation was not the reaction she’d hoped for. “Make love to me, Charles!” Some judicious, soft words later I found myself shopping for lubricants and lambskin condoms. Not the sort of thing I relished purchasing in broad daylight, so I’d disguised myself as best I could.
Except, because Annika’s return had made today’s paper, there was little hope of evading notice entirely. The shopkeeper watched me closely as I browsed his wares, only speaking up once satisfied that I was the same fellow from the article. “I don’t often see men of your standing in my little shop”, he remarked. “You saw no such thing” I snapped.
The instructions tucked into the syringe case offered no advice for intimacy. I improvised, turning my thoughts away from the cold leathery sensation, struggling not to become queasy. Eyes closed, I pictured Annika as I remembered her on our wedding night. Face flush, golden hair spread out over the pillows.
I waited until she was asleep to shower. Shuddering all the while, hurriedly scrubbing every inch of my body. One part more thoroughly than the rest. Intensely regretting what should’ve been the joyous unity of man and wife, if only her heart would beat. I began thinking of ways to curb her desire going forward. Not something I’d had any reason to give thought to before now, as my own appetites always kept pace with hers.
It was then that I began planning a Summer outing. Touring the countryside on the same old wood gas motorbike I’d been riding when we met. Wonderfully romantic, and a handy way to ensure that, so long as we’re outdoors, her mind does not turn to prurient matters. Now fully unable to sleep, I took a stroll to the separated garage.
Beneath a dusty cover I found the old beauty just as I’d left her. Some small maintenance would need to be done, cleaning out the burner, replenishing oil and so forth. Enough to tire me out. So I went to work. By the time the sun began to peek over the horizon I’d completed the job, including polishing every metal surface and bringing the tires up to an appropriate pressure.
As I made my way back to the house, now sorely in need of a second shower, I spotted what I thought was a woman atop the roof. A trick of the light I assumed. But as I drew closer it was revealed to be Annika. Still in her nightgown, tossed about by the wind. “Annika! What’s gotten into you? It’s dangerous! Come down from there!”
So, she did. My jaw hung open, face locked into an expression of horror as I watched her fall. As if in slow motion. Gripped by the agony of watching her die a second time. But could it happen so easily? I seized on the hope, as I barreled towards the house, that in her present condition a simple fall like that could not do her in.
It all might’ve ended there, had I been wrong. She would be committed again to the soil, this time for good, my selfish defiance of the natural order forcibly set right. But of course, she was still moving when I found her. Both legs broken as well as one arm. She was laughing.
“It doesn’t hurt!” she exclaimed, continuing to babble indifferently as I fretted over her injuries. I couldn’t very well take her to the hospital. They’d notice straight away that she was cold as ice and with no discernible pulse. That left but one possible destination. She continued laughing on the way, no apparent concern for the terrible fright she’d given me.
Beady and Scholls did not greet me when I burst into their office. Nor did I find them in the basement. I decided I could apologize for my trespass once I found them. Surely given the urgency of my visit, they would not hold such a thing against me. I carefully laid Annika’s broken body in one of the train cars, padded by my coat. She’d settled on quiet giggling now.
It was a trick to figure out the controls. Made me wish I’d watched Beady more closely the first time. But soon enough we were on our way through the tunnel. Then before long we emerged into the warehouse. The track continued around the edge, and I did not halt the train for I could see neither Beady nor Scholls anywhere.
Finally the train arrived at a second tunnel. Bracing myself as I knew not what to expect on the other side, we entered. This was a much longer trip. At first I thought my ears deceived me but as we approached the next stop, there was no mistaking it. The sound of rousing music.
Expecting to find those two at the source of it, I stopped the train. The station appeared to be a refurbished tube stop with wooden trim added, ornate lanterns hanging here and there, and posters advertising all manner of brands I’d never heard of. I left Annika on one of the benches, vowing to return soon with help. She didn’t seem to care about that one way or the other, much less appear interested in where she was.
The source of the music turned out to be a theater. Some sort of dance number by the sound of it. But when I poked my head through the curtains, I received an unbearable shock. Row after row of gaudily dressed theater goers looked on in delight as some sort of ribald comedy played out on the stage.
Stay Tuned for Part 6!