Her nose took the impact, it canted left and snapped perfectly at the bridge. Her mascaraed eyes watered until her vision became a myopic smudge. She staggered, tripping on the raised step between lounge and diner. (A design feature she always hated but he insisted on.) ‘It will define the individual spaces’, he’d said. Another blow staggered her. She remembered her Interior Design professor screaming ‘NEVER BREAK THE FUCKING SPACE,’ as he came in, on, or often just around her slut of a best-friend flatmate. That exalted mantra had stuck, her friendship hadn’t. Her fingers skittered along the edge of the kitchen top, too cold, too polished, nothing to cling to, to hold, to grasp. Her father’s words came to her, ‘you can’t trust stainless steel,’ he’d say, ‘unnatural stuff, use wood, wood has an inherent trust, copper an earned one, stone, who the hell uses stone nowadays?’ He always chuckled at himself when he said that. He also warned her. “Look for the comfortable, the homely, ‘hugge,’ as the Dutch say. No cold marble, no hard granite, no slippery steel and definitely no injection moulded impervious shiny plastic. An interior, my gorgeous girl, is a mirror of soul.”
She should have listened. Should have read the signs, but at nineteen she knew everything. The slope was gentle but slippery, once her feet were planted she could not step off. It was her own fault. No!
“I loath this fucking house,” she screamed “it’s a god damn fucking abortion. My father would have hated it.”
The hand came again, hard wrapped in a softness long gone from the marriage. Her wrist snapped. The scream caught in her throat, overpowered by the flood of pain. Her voice was normal when she spoke again.
“Happy?” The question was not for him.
The pain drove consciousness into a darkened enclave of her mind from where it spied out on the scene untethered from her body. It saw the clenched fists, the sharp raised knees, the kicking feet. But all it could recall was the smell of ink, the scent of paper and the machine clack, clack, clack, as she watched him turn the rollers.
The printer loved her from the first. She listened to his dream. She trusted in him. Two black eyes the first time. No sunglasses, like she was proud of them, a badge of honour. Her eyes were different though that last time, they looked hard, resolved, steely, they suited her.
He made her a cup of tea, he supped a beer and they sat on his back porch in the waining autumn sunshine looking at the graffiti’d back wall of his neighbours house. ‘Fuck the Man’ it said. His wife had tried to clean the Fuck off, but really only highlighted it. Kid’s, he’d said, ‘The Man’ isn’t me, he went on to clarify, well I don’t think he is. He stopped. She smiled. Sorry, he said, I get nervous around you. Don’t, she said. He took another dredge of beer.
“What I’m going to tell you,” he said, “you’ve got to keep to yourself, nobody is in on this. I’m at ground zero as they say, the first.”
“Ok,” she said, “mum’s the word.”
He didn’t make her cross her heart and hope to die, that would have made him seem childish. He took a breath. He’d never told anybody this, apart from his wife, but he didn’t think she was listening because her sister Tammy was whining at the back door about how Carmichael had left her.
“I want to be a healer.”
She didn’t laugh, his wife hadn’t laughed, not really, just a small snort of breakfast cereal through the nose. That bitch Tammy, had almost wet herself.
“That’s a nice dream.”
“No, it’s real, a fact. I’ve verified it. It’s a one hundred percent dead cert. The seeds of the Amarchu tree.”
He took the handful he’d received in the post and shook them out of their waxed packet onto his palm. He looked into her eyes, they stared back with a steely interest. He ran his finger through the seeds making small ploughed furrows. A faint tang of dampened earth eddied into the air.
“It’s little known in the West. An Amazonian tribe discovered them.”
“I’d love to go to the Amazon.”
He almost offered then but no, she would have to make the decision for herself. He didn’t want her to see him as just a means to an end.
“The agent talks of real miracles, none of this fake weight loss bullshit or hair regeneration, but bonafide healing of the terminally ill, raising of the dead miracles. The numbers could be enormous.”
She sounded impressed, not like his own wife, a born skeptic, love her, but no support. South America is not dangerous and how the hell would Tammy ‘been no fucking where’ know anyway.
“I just need some stake money, you know, to get the ball rolling. We’ll need to trek far into the forest.”
“Jungle,” she said, “largest on the planet.”
They planned, he got as far as a false passport. Carmichael, Tammy’s ex, may have been a useless twat of a husband but he knew all the, in this instance, right people. The printer was on the phone booking the flights when the news came, it almost broke him – almost.
It was a big case, filled the news for six months. The death of a prominent designer and the macabre desecration of her grave helping to fuel the media frenzy. The city was clutched for two months as the court-case ran its torturous course.
The jury took two days to find him not guilty and put a damning stain on her memory. Tammy, said she had it coming, stuck up fucking poncy interior designer, who the hell needs interior designers. It’s just arranging furniture and stuff. He strangled the life out of her then.
The future he hoped for was snatched from him. No, ripped from him, by that fuck of a murdering bastard. His rage would not abate. It swirled and screamed around his head. It drove him back into the arms of his wife. She accepted him with a love that had never diminished, carried as always just out of view but now she could bring it back into the light. She comforted him as best she could. It was hard, she did not know what their relationship had been but it was strong and honest she could see that. She would be there for him as she had always been. She would be the rock around which her husband now crashed and cannoned. His anchor until he came back to her from the sea of his grief.
They sold the business, the house, the cars, there were insurance and savings bonds to cash in, there was Carmichael and his ravings about Tammy to deal with, (how the hell would they know were that psychotic bitch was), flight’s had to be arranged, passports applied for, visas too, customs clearance to sort, bribes to pay, favours to call in, a guide to find and employ, carriers, tents, food, medical supplies and questions from a certain tenacious NYPD detective to field.
His wife was fantastic, without her he didn’t think he would have made it to the jungle. He hated that he didn’t love her anymore. Hated having to lie to her but he had a dream and a promise to keep. Luckily she was taken nine days into the trek. A Jaguar the guide thought, though he didn’t seem to be that interested, it’s my best guess, he’d said, not a lot else out there could carry off a full grown human. The printer, though not religious, said a silent prayer. God, he thought was a strange and wonderful creature.
They had caught a flight to Manaus, a taxi to the camp just inside the forest, ‘Jungle,’ the guide corrected him when they first met.
“What’s the difference?”
“About fourteen hundred different ways to die.”
He hadn’t mentioned Jaguars as one of those at that point. He would also fail to mention, the poison dart frog, wandering spiders and Electric Eels. Luckily they were a large well armed group.
The guide estimated two weeks trek due North. They were delayed a week when there was a problem with import restrictions on frozen produce. They got held up at customs for another four days, plus, in total, another six grands worth of erroneous bribes. The dry ice was procured from a local hospital. He was assured, as far as he could be in the middle of a Jungle in a language he didn’t really understand, by someone who’d learnt their American from sixties sit-coms, that the hospital had very, very many lots and would not miss this very, very few less.
They set off in earnest on the fourteenth day, things started well; thundering waterfalls were passed, immense rivers crossed, valleys, so steep no light touched their vine encrusted floors, were climbed. On the sixteenth day a troupe of Howler Monkey’s lazing in the canopy hooted and snorted at them. The nineteenth day the guide told them they were making good progress and showed them a map. The group was in good spirits. He made love to his wife for the last time on the evening of the twenty-second day, it was quick and aggressive and urgent, she yelled out just the once. She was taken early on the twenty-third day, before dawn, a damp fog swirling around the clearing. All the evidence pointed to the attack being quick and aggressive and urgent. She had yelled only the once, her voice drifting to the camp from some distant, dark dell, deep in the Jungle.
On the twenty-eighth day they finally located the Tree. The printer was a little disappointed, he tried not to show it. His dream prepared him for something mighty and majestic but the Tree had a stunted and twisted look to it, evil almost, cursed. He questioned the guide, who assured him it was the right Tree. The printer pointed to more noble and elegant specimens but the guide was adamant. This was the Tree of local legend. The Tree the tribe called ‘Amotou’ the Tree of life. The printer took photos of the other trees they would look so much better in the sales brochure.
The printer dreamt that night:
In the clearing was the Tree, its crooked and creeping canopy smothering everything. He was prone, staring at the clear night sky. Stars unknown, glinted long decayed light down to him, he received it with awe. The Jungle was silent. No wind rustled its canopy. No animal shuffled its undergrowth. The sound that came to the printer’s ears were the Tree’s roots as they scuttered from the earth and wrapped his legs. Its branches bent and held his arms. The seeds it bore were shaken into his open mouth. They tumbled and tipped, more and more fell until they filled his constricted throat and overflowed down his crying cheeks. He choked and gagged. His body heaving and bucking but the Tree held him taut to the ground. Worship me the Tree said.
The next day the group discover the bloated bodies of the indigenous tribe – all dead. Men, women, children, babies, chickens, three small boar and nine dogs. The guide reckoned bad water, the printer was not reassured, bad water did not really explain the condition of the bodies. Guards were posted that night.
While the guards patrol the permitter, the printer sits opposite the guide. They looked at each other over the open fire while the flames cast deep, disturbing shadows out into the Jungle. The Jungle, chuttered, squawked, howled, whooped and rustled.
“What now?’ The guide asked.
The printer didn’t t know. He hoped to meet a local tribesman and learn about the tree and the seeds and the prescribed technique for raising the dead. He’d found an ancient book but it was no use because out here there is no-one fluent in ancient book.
“The gas will run out tomorrow.”
The guide pokes the fire and sends sparks scuttling into the air.
“I know.” Says the printer. “I know.”
“Is she worth it, all this?”
“I Love her.”
“I had a dog once,” the guide says, “a little Spaniel.”
“I loved it.”
“You cannot compare your love for a mongrel with my love for her.”
“Are you saying my love is less because it was for an animal?”
“Because…because, it was a dog for fucks sake! She is a human.”
“Was a human. She is now a year old frozen corpse. Do you love her corpse?”
“Of course not, I love her.”
“Her is no more. Her is gone.”
“No, no she is not. When I resurrect her she will be the same.”
“They have a word. It is an old word, an ancient word, Necromancer.”
“You want to raise the dead.”
“Yes, but she didn’t deserve to die.”
“Nor did my dog. I do not want to raise that.”
“Stop talking about your stupid dog, it has no relevance.”
“Tell that to my daughter.”
The printer strides into the jungle.
“Don’t go far, remember your wife.”
The guide stokes the fire and lights a small, foul smelling cigar. It keeps the mosquito’s away while he waits.
The printer returns to the Tree. He rails at it, screams at it, blames it for everything. He punches its dark bark until his knuckles are raw. He tears at its roots, ripping nails from his fingers. But he is human, his efforts futile against the ancient hardened entity. He begs. He prays. He cries. Then returns to the camp and sleeps next to his frigid love.
That night he dreams again:
A dark man, in nothing but a flowing cloak, lays the seeds into a hollowed stone. The stone is placed onto a roaring fire. The dead suspended above. The seeds pop and burn, releasing a heavy black smoke that curls and creeps around the body. It twitches and shudders, animated but no conscious co-ordination. The man swallows a great lungful of the thick coiling smoke, opens the corpses mouth and breathes deep into its lungs. The corpse awakens.
He talks to the guide about this dream, who laughs at him. He talks to some of the carriers, who don’t understand him and think he is a raving fucking lunatic. ‘Loco,’ they say and cross themselves when he comes near.
The next night the gas runs out as the printer sleeps. The precious preserving vapour dissipates. Water drips. The body thaws. He wakes with no choice. He must save her. He must carry out the ritual. He must. What choice does he have?
Her body is naked and opaque white. It reminds him of a disfigured bone china doll his mother loved, translucent, cracked, lifeless. Slippery and fish soft he hauls her from the crate. Her heels drag, spreading her limpid legs, flabid muscles hang drooped. The carriers cross themselves and mutter, “Malvado.”
“I need to tie her above the fire.” He mimes the actions of binding and hauling. The guide barks orders “átala sobre el fuego.” They string her up like a gutted deer, back supported, neck and head tipped backwards, eyes fallen slightly open. Red lipstick, applied after her death, turned livid plum, smears her cheek like a gash. Hair, grown long and shineless, hangs dripping. Water drops from cold cavities, hissing on the open fire.
In the hazing heat and dust he carries out the ritual as the dream portended.
The pain is immense. It assembles upon itself in a slow gradation; an itch, a discomfort, an ache, a throb, a jolt, a searing, a shock, a gasp, a shout, a scream, an agony, a torture, a trauma, an excruciation, a birth. The light shatters her vision and ruptures it into a haze of shape. Her mind cannot grasp the images, cannot photograph them into sense. They dance and shimmy and will not settle on a concrete. Sound is a vacuum filled with a need, but no recognition comes. It is alien. It is distort. It is void. She screams in her mind.
Smoke, coffee tasting, entwines her spine. It is absorbed, it becomes her. She is smoke, acrid and fluid. Movement evolves in her limbs, twitched spasmodic movement, not controlled, primal. Her spine bends at impossible angles, double jointed arms flail and contorted legs tread impossible steps.
“Please, hold her I need to breathe it into her lungs. Por favor, please. Tree, help me.”
“Loco,” the guide shouts. “devil man, she is an abomination. El diablo, God will curse you both.”
A shot is felt. A succession of waves shattering through her. Warm blood touches her lips. A memory? Smoke explodes into her lungs. It explores through every part of her. It draws who she was from the memories of her cells, her atoms. Her spaces between the meta and physical. Memory forms like a shadowed shadow, smell is enticed, sound learnt. A clack, a clack, drums revolving. Feeling returns to dead. Nerves electric. A charge that brings a scream up through her essence. It erupts in a yowling of raw agony. She is restored. Re-animated. Re-built. Re-live. Returned.
Another shot is felt.
Peter O Connor