Jay Frances knew this even before he saw her body. The lights on the fourth floor stairwell of the parking garage landing were out, and it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness. She lay slumped against the cinderblock wall to his right, at the bottom of the steps that led up to the fifth floor landing. But even before he had seen her, he had sensed her presence the way he always did when the time would come. He’d felt it first in his hands and he’d known.
His mind had been preoccupied with thoughts of his daughter, Emma, who would be celebrating her sixth birthday in another week. Sometimes people would remark to him about how horrible it must be, having a child born so close to Christmas, but Jay always tried to make each occasion separate and special for Em. Especially over the last two years, since Lucy was gone.
It was desperately, bitterly cold outside. Jay had bundled up in his wool overcoat and taken the afternoon off from work so he could head to the mall and get a jump on birthday shopping. He was on his way home, tired from fighting the Christmas shopping crowd and ready for some supper as he made his way up the stairs in the mall garage. The garage was not heated and the air was painfully cold to breathe. The warmth, the tingling had begun in his hands, spreading underneath his gloves the way a shot of good whiskey will spread inside your belly.
He’d noticed the sensation, but it had been so long since he’d felt it, his mind dismissed it. After all, there had been more pressing issues that required his mental attention. He was thinking of Em’s birthday wish list, and of the Easy Bake Oven he had found on sale at the mall toy store. Emma had been pleading for one for months now, and she was going to be so pleased when she unwrapped it on her birthday. Jay carried the oven in an oversized plastic shopping bag, along with a couple of other gifts he had found.
He was so lost in thought that he walked right past the small yellow sign at the top of the third floor stairs, the one that cheerily informed him: “SORRY! Staircase closed for maintenance!”
Jay never even noticed it as he climbed the flight of stairs to the fourth tier, where he had parked his car. He was imagining Emma grinning ear to ear and squealing with delight when she pulled back the wrapping paper from her Easy Bake Oven.
I need to talk to Marie this afternoon and make sure she’s got everything she needs so she can whip up that Dutch-chocolate cake Em likes so much, the kind with the cherries on top…
Jay had hesitated midway up the steps from the third floor, pulled inexplicably from his train of thought. He stared at the dark landing above him and his brain finally began to process the peculiar, tremulous sensation in his hands. He felt as though there was something there in the gloomy darkness that drew him near, beckoning to him. Suddenly his mouth went very dry and his throat seemed to constrict and tighten.
Can’t be that, it can’t be, he told himself. There’s nothing there. Nothing at all. I’ve got to get home. I’ve got too much shit to do and
He walked up the remaining steps, his body moving seemingly of its own accord, as if he suddenly found himself a marionette being led by invisible strings. There was something on the ground; something sticky and damp that made his shoes slide on the rough concrete floor. His breath drifted around his head in a dimly-lit halo.
There’s nothing here, he thought, pressing his hands together, feeling that dim heat shooting up his wrists and arms, tightening in his shoulders. I have to go. There’s nothing here. Please let there be nothing here. Let there
Then he realized he was stepping in blood, just as his eyes grew accustomed to the shadows and he saw her there, saw what someone had done to her. He drew in a sharp, startled gasp and the plastic bag containing the Easy Bake Oven and other birthday delights dropped to the floor.
His hands were thrumming now, pulsating, guiding him closer to her.
Oh, God, please no! I can’t do this, not again. Not now.
She stared at a point beyond his left shoulder, her eyes unblinking, frozen wide in stark terror. Her lips were parted slightly, and there was blood coming from her mouth and nose, smeared against her chin. Someone had slashed at her breasts, her stomach and groin. There was blood everywhere, pooled around her hips in a black, glistening puddle.
She was propped against the wall, nearly seated. Her legs were spread apart and her white slacks were bunched clumsily down on her hips, as if someone had tried to yank them down. Her feet turned in towards one another, pigeon-toed and she was wearing white rubber surgical clogs. One had fallen off and lay on its side next to her.
Jay could feel an incessant, electrical humming in his chest, hear it crackling inside his skull, throbbing. He realized he was shaking violently all over, as if he’d grabbed hold of a live wire.
He knelt next to her. He didn’t want to see her, but couldn’t take his eyes off her. He reached out for her once and jerked his hand away. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, wanting to block out the sight of her, the smell of her, the sensation of her.
What the hell are you doing? Get out of here, for Christ’s sake! Get out of here and call Paul! Call someone, anyone, please! I can’t do this. I can’t…I can’t.
He opened his eyes and looked at her, helpless to prevent himself. Maybe it was a hallucination, or the dim light, but he could swear there was steam rising from her eviscerated abdomen. She was dead, but her death was a fresh and new thing, and her body’s grimmest secrets steamed in the frigid air.
He took off his gloves. They had been a present from Lucy; real Italian leather
(“Rich, Corinthian leather,” she’d giggled in a rotten Ricardo Montalban impersonation on that once-upon-a-time-ago Christmas morning.)
but he let them fall, as forgotten as the gifts, to the ground.
The pounding deep inside his skull was deafening.
Please don’t let me do this please there’s Emma now and I can’t do this because I have Emma to think of.
Please don’t let me touch her.
His hands moved, again as if some malevolent puppeteer jerked his strings, forcing him to move, and he reached for her, hands outstretched, fingers spread wide.
It’s not too late if I don’t touch her, some last, desperate part of his mind pleaded. Jesus if I just don’t touch her…
His fingers brushed against her face, trailing into her hair as he cupped his palms against her battered, bloodied cheeks.
My God, he thought. She’s still so warm.
And then there was light, brilliant, blinding, searing. It swallowed the sky, swallowed the girl, swallowed everything, and he threw his head back and screamed in both agony and ecstasy.
Jay Frances blacked out.
And raised the dead.