One never knows what to believe in till the day he dies. Heaven? Hell?
The fact is, it’s neither of them.
When Joseph Snyder caved my head into the sidewalk for a few dollars and my four-year old IPhone, I felt free. Free from the earthly bonds that had defined my life ever since I arrived to this town. Relieved I would no longer feel the pain of heartbreak when Jessy Maria the raccoon dumped me. Thankful I no longer felt the sting of rejection from when Pa kicked me out of the family, all because I dated outside of my species. My life was constant pain, the suffering prolonged only by my stretched-out existence. My ears and tail had always lain flat when I lived. And when I died, I was perpetually in this state of bliss; no thoughts, no worries, no nothing. Everything just felt right. That was the first time my tail stood, even as my life melted into the sidewalk.
So believe me when I tell you how angry I was when a novice Magic Man brought me back to life. No one of the living can ever understand the shock and fury at being ripped out of one’s well-deserved peace. It was as much my rage at this and his belief that I should be grateful that had me wringing his life out of him. But the Bokor, the Magic Men were the only ones who could undo the spell they wrought, and I thus found myself in a state of unliving.
I was lucky he was but a novice, anyone stronger and I would have remained a mindless slave. It’s not all that bad; but it wasn’t all that good either. Contrary to popular belief, the unliving, or the Risen, still need to eat. The only difference is that I can eat eggs and toast and it tastes no different from days-old beef left to fester in the sun. You can bring the dead back to life, but some things just remain so. My sense of taste. My wish to be in another world aside from this one. The loss of my sense of smell that rivaled other coyotes. Living didn’t matter anymore, but you can’t die twice. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Having little else to do, I visited my old haunts. Not having a corpse and all, there wasn’t any report made about my “disappearance”, so I was free to wander around as long as I stayed out of the public eye. When I needed to go into town for food, I kept to the shadows, always away from the canids. I must imagine how much I must stink, being half-dead and all.
Life in the land of the Bayou ain’t a bed of roses. Some say it’s as much the inconvenience of moving as the roots our families had set there that makes us stay. It wasn’t like I had anywhere else to go, and even the dead loves the familiarity of the place we had lived and died in. It anchored me, gave me some semblance of a meaningful existence. As long as I acted like it was business as usual, I remained sane. It’s surprising, really, that with so many people living and having died here, I was the only free Risen around these parts. It’s not like there wasn’t any Bokor around, but more and more people moved to the cities these days. I have to admit however, a year of roughing it on my own gets real lonesome. Once, I’ve considered talking to the townsfolk; but what guarantee do I have that they wouldn’t see through me at once? Greyish skin and scraggly pelt aren’t exactly signs of good health. I thus resigned myself to the fate that as long as I existed, I would go it alone.
Until I saw her. Here I was, sitting at my favorite outlook at the edge of Barren’s Pass, when I heard her sobs. Now, it is said that feeding one of the Risen such as me salt will save us from our state of unliving. Given that I rather enjoy being able to have some semblance of life, I wasn’t keen in finding out if that was true.
But the sobs and caterwauling seemed so familiar, so alluring, and soon I realized I would never forgive myself if I didn’t take a look. I crept up to the source of the sound, a precipice at the edge of the hill. And I saw her.
Jessy Maria looked nothing like how I remembered her. Seated on a rock, her normally sleek immaculately-groomed fur was matted all over, with the swamp plastering her fur in places. Her face was in her paws, which were themselves soiled and worn. Her mask creased and wrinkled as her paws left her face. There were no tears. Her eyes were just like mine, half-dead but still seeing, tear ducts having long receded into her walking corpse. A crudely-stitched gash at her side showed, further confirming what her eyes told me. Another of my kind still walked.
“It feels really lonely in here,” whined Jess as her paw went over her heart, and in that instant, all my past grief at her snub faded. “However do you manage it, Tazzy? How do you go through all this, and not wish you were never brought back to life?” Her voice ended in a rill, echoing across the night’s silence. A sound so lonely even the dead could feel the chills.
“By waiting for you,” I said, and for the first time in my life and death, I felt complete.