Please note: This Internet publication of Risen is © 2000 by Jan S. Strnad. It is not public domain and may not be duplicated without permission!
It was supposed to be the man who fell off to sleep and the woman who lay awake, her brain buzzing, but Peg and Brant had exchanged roles somewhere along the way. Peg slept with her head in her pillow, her butt snuggled against Brant's side, and he lay on his back, eyes wide open, worrying about Tom.
The further it got past midnight, the more Brant stewed. He should've made some excuse to Peg and pursued Tom to the dock to poke around for bodies. Instead, while Tom was confronting the forces of darkness, Brant was safely under Tom's roof boffing his mom.
He'd gone from anticipating Tom's report to dreading it to fearing that Tom wouldn't come back at all. Now his mind was exploring the possibility that Haws or someone else had found him snooping around the dock and shot him, and he'd come back, and he'd show up and tell Brant that everything was fine, and they'd been worried about nothing. How would Brant know if Tom was a Return? This idea scared him more than any others. He should have gone after him, damn it, and might've if he hadn't been thinking with the wrong head.
He looked over at Peg and knew that he was being too hard on himself. It wasn't just sex with Peg. This was the real thing, the love that had eluded him through his big city life and big city marriage and divorce. He hadn't come to Anderson looking for it, he'd come to get away from everything he knew wasn't what he wanted, but here it was. It had been right here waiting for him to get his mind clear enough to recognize it.
Now that he had it, he was going to be damned sure it didn't slip away from him.
He checked the clock. Twelve-fifteen. He'd heard the church bell. He wondered if Franz Klempner had heard it, too, and what he thought of it. There were secrets locked in that silent farmer's head, secrets so deeply buried that Franz Klempner himself couldn't divine them. Somehow Brant had to dig them out. He had to find Eloise. Maybe there was a photo album stored in a trunk or letters that Irma kept hidden in a drawer that would provide a clue. He needed a last name. He could search public records for every "Eloise" in the county and hope that it wasn't a long-lost cousin in another state or an old school friend who'd gone away to college and never come back. Tom could help him.
Where was Tom anyway? What was he doing? What had he seen? What did he know?
The boys hadn't planned to rendezvous at the reservoir. They hadn't planned anything to do after the mortuary. Tom realized that, in his mind's eye, he'd seen them milling around at the mortuary until a few minutes after midnight, after nothing had happened, with Darren bitching about what a waste of time the whole thing had been and how stupid it was to think for one instant that Galen would come back from the dead, and then they'd all go their separate ways and that would be that. It would be over. It would turn out that Haws was never really dead and Doc Milford was drunk when he diagnosed John Duffy. Whatever happened between Haws and Galen, it was settled with Galen's death. It would all have been a bad dream, something Tom cooked up in his imagination, fueled by Brant Kettering' desperate need for a story.
But things hadn't gone that way at all. Tom had witnessed the miracle of rebirth, and it had been horrifying. Emotionally, it was like being in an earthquake. They'd had one once, a couple of years back. It hit from out of the blue, no warning, in an area not known for earthquakes or faults, and it had scared hell out of everybody. The earth wasn't supposed to move. The roaring that came from nowhere and everywhere spoke to some ancient memory that resided deep inside Tom's soul. He'd wanted to run, but with the floor and the walls and the ceiling shaking, with objects hurling themselves off shelves, with the awful roaring in his ears, where could he run to? Where a moment ago had been solidity and strength and order, was now chaos. Nothing made any sense. What could he do in a world that, in one fraction of a second, suddenly changed all the rules? The earthquake had lasted fifteen seconds, and those seconds changed Tom's outlook forever. You couldn't count on anything, not even the ground beneath your feet.
He felt that same disorientation now. The one great certainty of life was that it was temporary. Death waited at the end. Maybe the soul lived on. Maybe there was a world beyond. But bodies died, flesh died, cells died, and they didn't come back.
Until tonight. He'd seen it for himself. He'd actually seen it happen, and it sent his mind into the Blacklands. He sat at the edge of the water with the chill night air stirring the hairs on the back of his neck, on the edge of a black lake in a black, scorched world obscured by smoke. The cicada buzz filled his ears like a mantra, transporting him beyond the world of men and out to the barren plain of nothingness. Voices spoke around him but their words had no meaning, like the water lapping at the shore, like the cicada thrum, like the dark thoughts buzzing around inside his skull.
"Fuck you, man!" Darren screamed, but Tom sat with his back to the other boys and didn't flinch, as if he hadn't heard.
"He's out of it," Buzzy said, pacing, wiggling his fingers.
"Fuck you!" Darren yelled again, practically in Tom's ear.
"I've seen him like this before. He's spaced."
Kent was shivering.
"That wasn't natural," he said. "That was freakin' weird."
"You didn't see shit," Buzzy said. "You were out that door so fast!"
"I saw enough."
"This is so incredibly, incredibly fucked!"
"We should go back."
Darren and Kent looked at Buzzy like he was nuts.
"Galen's our friend," Buzzy said. "This isn't some horror movie where zombies start eating people's brains. He came back and we ran. What're we gonna to do when he calls us? Hang up? Not answer the door when he comes around? We should be glad he's back. We should have a party or something."
Kent stared uncomprehendingly at Buzzy.
"You are so weird," he said.
"What do you think, Tom?" Darren asked loudly, speaking to Tom's back. "Should we throw a party for Galen? Put up a big banner...'Welcome Home From Hell?'"
"Leave him alone, Darren."
Darren walked over to him and Buzzy was sorry he'd opened his mouth. He was sorry, but he was tired of Darren's shit.
"What're you gonna do about it?"
"Back off, Darren." Apparently Kent was tired of Darren's shit, too. "Leave him alone."
"I don't believe this," Darren said. "Look at you guys. Sitting around like bumps on a fucking log. Do something, for Chris'sakes!"
"Like what? What are we supposed to do?"
"Something! How the hell should I know what?"
"Galen would know what to do," Buzzy said.
"Galen!" Darren said. "It's Galen that's got us all fucked up!"
"He would know! If it was one of us instead of him that got killed and came back...he'd know what to do about it!"
"Well it wasn't! And Brain Boy over there's gone into the asshole zone, so that leaves you and me and Kent to figure things out!"
"The blind leading the blind leading the blind," Buzzy said.
"Just shut the fuck up."
"I'm going home," Kent announced. He picked himself off the ground, dusted his behind. "Tomorrow, whatever happens, happens." He headed for his car.
"That's it? 'Whatever happens, happens?'"
"That's it," replied Kent.
"Works for me," Buzzy said. He walked over to Tom, patted him on the shoulder. "Hey. We're going home. You coming?" He went around and waved a hand in front of Tom's face. "Hey!" he said.
Tom started, blinked. He saw Buzzy's face looking down at him, asking him if anybody was home.
"I spaced out," Tom said.
"No shit," said Darren.
"Listen," Buzzy said, "we're calling it a night. Can you get home okay?"
"Okay, then. We'll see you tomorrow. You going to school?"
"I don't know."
"Give me a call, okay?"
Tom said he would. He heard the cars start and drive off. He waited until he could no longer hear the engines, then he stood up, threw a rock into the water and watched the ripples spread.
He wondered what Anderson would make of Galen's return, of Irma Klempner's. He and Buzzy and Kent and Darren had all seen them come back. Jed Grimm saw them, too, was probably one of them, another Return. Would they try to keep it a secret and deal quietly with the boys the way Haws had dealt with Galen? Or would they figure that the cat was out of the bag?
It was late. Brant would be wondering what happened to him. He should go home and tell Brant what he'd seen, get some rational advice.
Unless someone had gotten to Brant in the meantime. Haws could've killed his mom and Brant both, before midnight. They could be Returns by now.
He shouldn't have left Brant behind. Now Tom didn't know who to trust again.
The ripples on the water were dying out. Tom thought: What if they didn't stop? What if, instead of getting weaker as they spread, some force made them stronger? What if they kept spreading and spreading, and nobody could do anything to stop them?
Tom felt a sudden longing to be somewhere familiar and safe. He wanted to be someplace where the basic rules of the universe hadn't been turned upside down and inside out, where corpses slept the big sleep and you knew who your friends were.
But he no longer knew where that place would be.
Brant was about to fall asleep despite himself when he heard Tom's Honda pull up. He slid out of bed and pulled on his pants and shirt. He'd decided to play it cagey with Tom. He'd ask him about how it went and appear to take him and everything he said at face value, but he'd watch for blood stains and suspicious holes in his clothing, anything suggesting that Tom might be a Return. If he decided that Tom could no longer be trusted, Brant would tell Peg that Doc had called and they should come to the hospital. That would get her in the car. Then he'd hit the highway and tell her everything he knew while she had no choice but to sit there and listen, and he'd hope for the best.
He heard Tom rustling around in the kitchen, fixing himself a snack. Tom dropped a knife when Brant entered, asking, "How'd it go?" The kid was jumpy. What did that mean?
Tom tried not to stare at Brant, but it was hard to act casual after all he'd been through.
"He came back," Tom said. He cut himself a slice of roast for a sandwich. "So did the Klempner woman."
"You saw it?"
Brant walked up and pulled out one of the kitchen chairs, sat down. "Well, what was it like? Tell me!"
Tom concentrated on digging bread out of the plastic bag, cutting the meat to fit, spreading it with horseradish.
"It was awful. The bodies were so burned, you couldn't tell which one was which, not really. I mean we had an idea, but they were in bad shape. Skin all black or burned off. Hardly more than skeletons."
"Did it happen at midnight?"
"On the dot. The church bell rang. Then the corpses started jerking and flopping. Some of the guys ran right then."
"But you stayed."
"I had to know. Then after it started, I couldn't take my eyes off it. The old, dead, burned stuff just fell away. I saw
muscles reforming, new skin growing over it. It was like some weird time-lapse movie or something."
Brant's heart was beating fast and he had to remind himself to breathe. Tom seemed to be taking it so calmlywas that a normal human reaction? He just stood there making a sandwich and talking about it as if giving a book report in school that day.
It was now one o'clock. Tom had had an hour to react. Maybe he'd been sick to his stomach at the time, maybe he screamed or cried and was hiding all that from Brant under a facade of teenage stoicism. Or maybe he was a Return and was trying to downplay the whole thing to catch Brant off guard.
"You're taking it well," Brant said. "I'd be reaching for a bottle right now."
"You want a beer?"
"At one in the morning? No thanks. Got any whiskey?"
Tom shook his head "no." He pulled out a chair and sat down facing Brant. He took a bite of his sandwich and chewed, not really hungry, playing for time while he studied Brant's face. So far his reactions had been what Tom had guessed they'd be if Brant was still Brant, but how would he know? He didn't even know what kind of sign he was looking for.
"So, they came back. Then what?" Brant asked.
"Then we ran. Galen grabbed Buzzy's shirt and he panicked. So did I. We were shook up pretty bad and we just got the hell out of there."
"You didn't talk to Galen?"
"We just ran."
"Did they come after you?"
"No. I...I saw Jed Grimm. He knows we were there."
Brant scowled. "I was hoping they hadn't gotten to Jed. He'd be a good man on our side. What do you think?"
"Reverend Small was there before us. I think...I don't know. I can't prove anything. It's just a bunch of feelings and shit."
"Then tell me what you're feeling."
Tom was silent. He glared across the table at Brant.
"I don't know what I feel!" His voice was edgy, climbing in register. "I don't know what to make of anything, all right?"
"But Galen did come back, you're sure of that."
"I saw it! One minute he was this...this burnt out husk, not even a body but a...thing! Then he came back, and he was alive! And I don't...I don't know...."
"What don't you know, Tom?"
"The only goddamned thing I need to know! Is it good or bad? I don't know!"
"But you ran."
"Yeah, I ran! I said that, okay? I got scared and I ran!"
"Your gut knew what to make of it. It told you to run."
"So?" Tom was mad at himself. He'd let too much slip. He was going to hold something back but he'd lost control. Brant was infuriatingly calm and insistent.
"Something I learned as a reporter," Brant said. "Trust your gut. It'll lead you straighter than your head will. What's your gut telling you, Tom?"
"To get the fuck out of this town!"
"Then that's what we'll do." It hadn't taken much to crack Tom's facade enough to see the terror lurking behind it. As soon as he discovered that fear, Brant knew that Tom was still himself. A Return would've tried to sell Brant a miracle, but Tom had described something quite different. Miraculous, yes, but wonderful? Spiritual? Transcendent? No. What Tom had seen scared the bejeezus out of him.
As for Tom, he still wasn't sure about Brant, not one hundred per cent, but as long as things moved in the direction Tom wanted them to goas long as they were getting out of AndersonTom would give him the benefit of the doubt. He would also watch his back.
"We'll talk to Peg in the morning," Brant said, "and somehow convince her that we have to go away."
Peg's sleepy voice spoke to them from the doorway.
"Who's going away?" she asked.
Tom looked up abruptly. Brant twisted his head around to look over his shoulder and became painfully aware of how the tensions of the past couple of days had settled there. He scooted his chair around to regard Peg standing in the kitchen doorway in her house robe. He wondered if Tom could tell that she had nothing else on underneath. He felt himself rising and thought about junior high school and how erections always came at the most inappropriate moments, like when the bell rang for class change. It had been a long, long time since that had happened. Peg had worked some kind of change on him, that was for sure.
"Join us," Brant said. He and Tom exchanged looks. The conversation they'd thought to put off until morning was already steamrolling along. They might as well get it over with.
Peg shuffled to the cupboard and got out a glass. She poured herself some water and carried it over to the table. She propped her chin in her palms and looked at Brant and then Tom.
"Well?" she said. "What has the two of you skulking around the kitchen in the middle of the night? Plotting to blow up City Hall?"
Neither of them spoke. Neither knew how to begin. Peg looked again from one to the other. "Hello?" she said.
"I don't know where to start," Tom said.
"I guess you have to start with Friday night," Brant said.
Tom looked at his mom and thought about exacting the promise that can never be kept, the promise not to get mad. But that was useless and juvenile. He'd just lay it out for her and deal with whatever came.
"I was out with the guys, and there was an accident," he began.
God, this was going to be rough.
Peg sat in the kitchen alone. It was after three, she had sent the men to bed promising Brant she'd be along shortly. The way she felt right now, she might never go to sleep again.
Listening to Tom tell about Deputy Haws' shooting had tied her stomach into knots. It was terrible, awful, but exactly the sort of thing she'd feared would happen when he started running with the Ganger boy. As he'd told the story, her mind raced through the possibilities. Where was she going to get a lawyer? How would she pay for it? What in the world could she do to keep her son out of jail?
Then it had occurred to her that she'd seen Haws herself over the weekend, alive and well. Whatever else Tom told her, then, the story didn't end in murder. It was a mistake of some sort, Haws was only wounded. She was so wrapped up in listening to Tom that her mind wasn't piecing things together yet. It wasn't linking Haws and his murder with John Duffy, the man who came back from the dead.
Until Tom described burying the body.
Then something had clicked. The murder, the grave in the woods, memories of a drive-in movie she'd seen when she was no older than Tom, her talk with Madge Duffy...they all fell into place in a single, plummeting moment in which Peg felt the earth disappear beneath her. She fell like Alice down the rabbit hole, into a place where everything she knew was twisted into a bizarre caricature of itself.
When Tom had started to falter, Brant jumped in. He told about seeing the bullet holes in Haws' shirt and how Haws had been nosing around on Saturday night, looking for Tom. He told about seeing Haws and the Ganger boy together on Sunday morning, about finding the blood stains on the nudists' dock, about coming home to find Deputy Haws staked out across the street from his house.
At that point, Peg had called a time out. She couldn't sit still any longer. She stood up and paced. She was angry and confused. She demanded to know why they'd kept all this from her. She heard terrible words pouring out of her mouth, bitter accusations directed at Tom that she regretted instantly, apologies and tears. Finally she'd broken down completely and sat at the table and sobbed while Tom and Brant hovered around her, uncomfortable and helpless.
When she had recovered, emotionally exhausted, confused, resentful, she looked at them both and could tell from their expressions that there was more. She guessed that the worst was yet to come.
"I went to the mortuary tonight," Tom had said, "to see Galen. To see if he came back. I saw it, Mom. I saw his burned-up corpse, and the old woman's, too, and I saw them come back. I can't describe it. It was like they were being built all over again. They were brought back as good as new. I guess it was a miracle, but it scared the shit out of me. The other guysDarren and Buzzy and Kent were there, toothey ran, and so did I."
She'd said that she couldn't believe it, and Tom said he wouldn't have believed it either except he was there, he saw it with his own two eyes. The other guys could back him up. It happened all right.
"Peg," Brant had said, "the thing is, we think there could be more Returns. The people on the dock, for instance, if they were killed. They could've come back just the same as Irma Klempner and the Ganger boy. And there could be others. How many people might have died, maybe even been murdered, and we don't know about it because they came back and seemed as good as new?"
"Madge Duffy," Peg said to the empty kitchen. She spoke the name flatly, without inflection. She thought about their conversation and remembered how Madge had seemed different. Better somehow, stronger. Whenever she'd spoken to Madge before, she'd always had a defeated manner, like an animal resigned to its cage. She hadn't had that manner on Sunday afternoon. It was remotely possible that John had killed her on Saturday and she'd come back that midnight. But if so, she'd come back better than before.
Seeing his friend come back had terrified Tom. Then again, he was just a teenager, and what did teenagers know about life? Witnessing any birth would be frightening to someone who'd never seen it. Peg had given birth twice and she knew it was a painful, bloody process, the stuff of horror stories. But giving birth was such a common occurrence that people had to make it beautiful in their minds. Birth was the physical expression of the divine spark, after all. It was God's gift.
Maybe the Returns were a new gift. Just as off-putting, perhaps, to those who witnessed it unprepared, in the wrong settingin the middle of a mortuary, for Chris'sakes, at midnightbut it was no less a gift to be granted a second chance than to be given the first one.
What had happened, after all? The Ganger boy had shot Deputy Haws, and Haws had returned. What was so horrible about that? Strange, yes, even bizarre. But the end result was that Haws wasn't dead, there was no murder...wasn't that better than the alternative? Brant had seen them talking after church. Reconciliation?
As for Haws staking out Brant's house, that could've been Brant's imagination. Everybody knew that Haws could often be found on a hot afternoon parked under a shade tree, head lolled back, snoring. It could've been pure coincidence that he took his nap in front of Brant's house yesterday, and Brant overreacted after seeing what he thought were blood stains on the dock, stains that Tom hadn't been able to find later that night.
Brant and Tom wanted to leave town. They wanted to run away from something they didn't understand. A child might be frightened, too, by a spectacle of clowns and elephants and wild animal tamers, but he'd learn eventually that a circus was indeed something uncommon and even grotesque, but it wasn't anything to be feared.
Why shouldn't miracles be frightening, too, to the uninitiated? A magician sawing a woman in half could be unsettling to someone who'd never seen the trick before. Why shouldn't real magic be even more disturbing? But that didn't mean it was bad. And if it meant that Annie could be returned to her....
It was four o'clock. She'd sat in the quiet kitchen for an hour, turning these thoughts over and over in her head. Brant and Tom wanted to pack up first thing in the morning. They wanted Peg to arrange with the Cooves County Hospital to move Annie to a hospital in Junction City. She'd promised to look into it, and she would.
But she wasn't going anywhere, not yet.
She had to see what the day brought, and what it promised for herself and her girl.
Downtown, Doc Milford and the Lungers and their son Josh and Sheriff Clark and Clyde Dunwiddey had scrubbed down the Sheriff's Office and gone home.
Carl and Bernice Tompkins slept peacefully and the cats had settled down and the cockroaches had retreated to the nether regions under the house and inside the walls, some making the journey through the grass to the neighbors' houses on either side.
Frank and Doris Gunnarsen finally got their coffees and had a long chat with John and Madge Duffy. They left the Duffys' after two, promising to get together more frequently from now on.
Merle Tippert, Jack and Dolores Frelich, and Hiram Weems the traveling salesman had awakened shivering in the woods, found their clothes stacked and folded neatly nearby, and dressed quickly. They hurried to their cars, making a date to reconvene at Ma's for breakfast in the morning.
Jed Grimm had had a long talk with Galen Ganger and Irma Klempner, and they'd decided not to go home right away. The boys had seen them, so word would be spreading quickly. As far as the town knew, they were the first resurrections since John Duffy, so it was important to treat them with precisely the right "spin." Jed called Reverend Small over to help plan an event for Monday morning.
Seth tossed another log on the fire. He stood in front of it and warmed his hands, smiling.
Things would really start happening now.