Mark Edward Hall
I like peanut butter and maggot sandwiches.
Christian didn’t care if his little brother did like peanut butter and maggot sandwiches, as long as he came back to him.
The first time Christian was consciously aware of the resurrection pit he was twelve years old and it was three days after Stevie disappeared.
He knew folks died. He knew they went away. That was life in Somerville. Everybody went away eventually. And he knew about wakes and funerals and folks hanging out in Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes crying and eating bland food and toasting the dead with cheap wine and stale beer. Hell, he’d been to enough of them, too many to count.
What he didn’t understand was why they came back.
And why they were never quite the same after they did.
And nobody could ever give him a good answer about any of it.
Shhh, you’re not supposed to talk about these things.
And so he stopped talking about it, but he could never stop thinking about it. They could not make him do that.
His little brother Stevie was ten. They shared a room. They were close.
One night he heard footsteps and loud whispers out in the hallway and Stevie crying, and then it was silent and he knew.
And in the morning Stevie was gone.
Waylon, their father, was making a racket over breakfast, banging pots and pans together. Like he was angry.
Christian’s mother took off when he was five and Stevie was three. Nobody ever said why but Christian thought he knew. When she went away she wanted to stay gone.
Christian carefully searched the house but found no trace of his little brother. Returning finally to the kitchen he stood and watched his father.
“Where is he?”
“Gone,” Waylon said.
Waylon did not answer him. He smiled at the boy but Christian saw that it was a false smile, that his eyes were somewhere else, like they had turned over in his head and only seemed to be looking inward, as if they had been forced to gaze upon something too terrible to confide. Waylon wobbled around the kitchen, whistling tunelessly to himself and making small talk, but Christian was no fool. He knew what had happened to his little brother and he hated his father for not telling him.
“When’s he coming back?”
“Oh, a day or two.”
Christian had friends whose mothers and fathers had died, and he knew kids who’d died in car crashes. They all came back eventually. He had a friend named Leroy Starks who had fallen off a tractor into the blades of a corn harvester. He didn’t see Leroy’s body but those who did said it was a mess. Three days later Leroy was back at school. His skin looked different; yellow, like puss, and he talked slower, and he walked slower, like he had shit in his pants, and his eyes were dull, like they weren’t really seeing you, and he dug around in his nostrils all the time as if he was trying to scratch an itch in his brain. And he would say stupid things such as: I like peanut butter and maggot sandwiches? Or: I’m gonna play with my dead puppy when I get home?
Christian supposed it was good to have Leroy back, even if he did say stupid things.
Three days passed and Stevie still hadn’t returned. When he asked his father about it Waylon said, “There must have been a problem. Be patient. Things will play out eventually.”
“What sort of things?” Christian asked.
Waylon looked long and hard at his son before answering. “I suppose it’s time you knew about it,” he said. “You’re old enough.”
“Knew about what?”
“The resurrection pit.”
Christian nodded in understanding. He knew. Somehow he’d always known.
“During the nineteenth century something happened in the woods out behind old man Doggett’s farm,” Waylon explained. “Something hit the ground, made a pretty big crater. Nobody knows what it was but it burned away part of the forest and it never grew back. Couple years later, Doggett’s wife died and he buried her out in the pit. No one knows why he did it and I guess it’s not important. The point is, two days later she came back. She wasn’t exactly the same but she was good enough for old Doggett. She cooked his meals and cleaned his house. So before Doggett died he left instructions to be buried in the pit.” Waylon paused, looking in his son’s eyes. “That was more than a hundred years ago and . . . well . . . you know . . .”
“Yeah,” Christian said, “The Doggett’s are still around.” Christian knew them from church; they both had puss-yellow skin, dull eyes, frozen smiles and blackened teeth. Just like half the people in Somerville. And at school more and more kids were going away and coming back changed. Some ate rotten apples for lunch. Still others dined on insects and dead frogs. Some wore their clothes horribly soiled, inside out; few handed in homework and the teachers seemed not to care.
I like peanut butter and maggot sandwiches.
Waylon hung his head.
“Well why hasn’t anybody come here from away, see why it’s happening?” Christian asked.
“Oh they have,” Waylon said. “You bet they have.”
“They go away and never come back.”
“But what about Stevie?” Christian insisted. “Stevie didn’t just die, did he?”
“No, son, he didn’t. But he’s gone and there are rules.”
“We’re living longer these days,” Waylon explained. “There’s better medicine, safer cars. If natural attrition doesn’t accomplish the goal then we have to be . . . creative.”
“I hate you,” Christian said. He got up and left the room, knowing what his father had done.
Six days and nights passed and Stevie still hadn’t returned. And Christian began having dreams; Stevie sidling up to his bed, whispering in his ear, his breath dank, like grave dirt. “I need you, Christian,” his brother implored. “I can’t come home without your help.” But Christian knew that wasn’t the way it worked. Something was wrong.
The dreams continued for nearly a month and when Christian mentioned them to his father, Waylon would just stare blankly at him. When he tried to stay awake, Stevie’s voice went silent. It was only on those nights where, bested by exhaustion, he would fall into bed only to awaken at the sound of creaking floorboards as something crawled toward his room. A shape would slither past the doorway and the smell of grave dirt would assault his senses.
I don’t know what to do, Stevie.
“Yes you do.”
Dad should do it.
“Because Mama says you have to.”
Mama? Christian thought.
In a near-trance state, Christian climbed out of bed and, barefoot, followed the dark shape through the fields of autumn-dry corn stalks to the woods behind Doggett’s farm. It wasn’t until Christian reached the crater did he realize his brother had disappeared.
The pit was just as his father had described, a deep bowl-shaped indentation in the earth where vegetation refused to grow. Christian stood on the rim looking down into it. With the harvest moon clear and bright he had no trouble seeing the hundreds of holes where citizens had been buried and resurrected. But why had Stevie been denied? And what did Mama have to do with it?
Christian moved down into the pit until he came to an untouched mound. Something about the look of it troubled him.
He went to his knees and started to dig, thinking of his brother and Waylon’s blank stare, thinking of the kids at school.
I like peanut butter and maggot sandwiches.
He dug in the ground until his fingers bled. In the end, he found only an empty hole in the earth. And in the morning, despite the filth on his feet and the blood on his hands, he wondered if it had all been a dream.
That night the dark shape was back, slithering across the floorboards, beckoning, pleading.
“I need you, Christian.”
I tried last night, Stevie.
“Mama wasn’t ready.”
No! Mama went away a long time ago and didn’t come back. She went away because she didn’t want to come back.
“She’s been waiting a long time, Christian. You’re the only one who can help her.”
Christian left his bed and followed the slithering shape across the dark fields to the resurrection pit.
The hole he’d dug the night before was filled. And he realized why he’d been bothered by it. It couldn’t be Stevie’s grave. It was too big for a kid.
He got down on his knees and, with raw and bleeding hands, proceeded to dig.
When he hit something moist and soft he was careful to dig around it, throwing handfuls of soil up over the rim. He saw the mounds of her breasts first, then a partially decomposed face and thick mats of hair.
But Mama was already in the process of changing, the decomposition coming loose and sliding away. Beneath, another face was revealing itself, scaly, lizard-like.
Christian gave an abhorrent shudder and crawled out of the grave. Waylon and Stevie both stood at the edge peering in.
The creature in the hole pushed out its dirt-caked snout, its lizard-like eyes opening with moist sounds. The legs scrabbled and broke free. Thick braids of exposed sinew coiled up each of its legs, like cables that bunched and flexed as years of encrusted soil fell away.
The alien came up out of the hole as if on springs. The knobs of her spine were connected to strong plates of muscle. Her arms and legs were stretching even as they twitched with spasms, elongating, the fingers and toes now claws, lizard eyes scanning, landing on Christian.
Christian backed away. “No,” he said.
Waylon and Stevie moved toward him. “Your mother didn’t just go away, Christian. She was chosen.”
Christian continued to back away. “Chosen? What do you mean?”
“She needed a longer gestation period than the rest of us.”
Waylon made a gesture, taking in the entire crater. “You don’t think this was an accident, do you?”
Christian followed his hand and saw that the residents of Somerville had come out to watch. They lined the rim of the crater like guardians staring down at the birth of their queen.