‘Both life and the afterlife are infinite, and that border between them that we call Death is not as clear as we’d like to believe. In fact, it is as indefinable as the point at which the beach sand ends and the waves begin. The borders constantly overlap, constantly interfere with each other, and yet remain separate.’
– Blood Dweller’s Guide to the Underworld, Introduction (So, You’re Finally Dead).
Will crawled, spluttering, out from under a moth eaten bed, into a room with peeling wallpaper, no carpet and a broken window. He couldn’t stand yet – the vertigo of moving from one world into another too much to take, and so he sat up against one wall and waited for his head to stop spinning.
Darla emerged a few seconds later, tumbling out of a rotted closet up against one wall and almost tripping over the bed. ‘Jesus, damn it.’ She steadied herself, then stomped across the room and yanked Will to his feet. He pressed his lips tight, heroically resisting the urge to vomit until the last of the spins left him.
‘Good job. We’ll make a real demon out of you yet,’ she said, patting him on the back roughly. ‘Now come on, we don’t have much time, I reckon.’
She led him through the house, a two story junk heap that appeared to be home only to rats and squatters: the kitchen sink was green with mould and what had once been a living room was now a mess of ragged blankets, empty beer bottles and discarded needles. Everything smelled like urine. Will welcomed it – after Hell, anything that represented the concrete real world was a breath of fresh air to him. Even the sight of the dirty street, when they stepped out through the front door, with its dumpsterss and litter and barbed wire fences, was a sight for sore eyes.
‘You know the way from here?’ She asked him. ‘It’s near your neighbourhood, right?’
Will nodded. He looked up and down the potholed street and recognized it immediately. ‘It’s Drader Street. My house is a few blocks over, this way.’ He started walking. It was strange to be the leader for once, but he was comfortable here, glad to be back. Darla, on the other hand, walked with her head low, snake eyes darting in seven directions at once and tongue flicking nervously behind her teeth.
‘What’s wrong?’ he said. ‘No one can see us, right? We’re like ghosts.’ Not that there was anyone to see them, anyway – it was early morning, the dawn light only just touching the chimneys and roof tiles of suburbia.
‘Yes and no. People see us, but they only see what they expect. Probably a couple of homeless junkies stumbling down the street. How far is it?’
‘Ten minutes, if we hurry. Why, what’s wrong?’
‘It’s not healthy for the dead to walk with the living. It takes a lot of soul to survive up here for long. Like breathing poisonous gas.’
‘What happens if you don’t eat?’
‘You get more… Monstrous. Or else you fade away and wake up somewhere in Hell. So hurry up, unless you don’t mind sparing a chunk of your shoulder any time soon.’
They left the shadier streets and Will took a few turns down the laneways that led into his own middle class suburb, all neat trimmed lawns and painted fences. Darla shook her head as a new BMW passed them on the street. ‘Every time I come up here it’s the same, you know that? Different styles, better tech. But same people doing the same shit. I bet it’s been the same since the start of time. People. Don’t know what life is, do they? Don’t know what they missed ‘till they’re dead.’
Will didn’t say anything. He was trying to work out how long it had been since Calvin ripped him out of his body. A siren sounded nearby and he jumped. What if the police were already there, loading his sister in a body bag? Or him? They reached his street – Whitely, and he started running.
But, despite the broken front window, there wasn’t a cop to be found. He let out the breath he’d been holding. ‘This is it, he said.
‘Nice place.’ She stood looking up at it, thoughtful. ‘Someone’s gonna see that window, though. Probably soon.’
‘I know. Darla – where’s Freya’s house? Did you say it was on the coast before? As in, the beach?’
She frowned. ‘Yeah. Shit. We need something to keep your sister cool for the drive. You got any ice?’
He was about to say no when he remembered the enormous stocks of frozen milk, meat and bags of peas his father had kept in the same freezer Sarah was now. If they kept all of that along with Sarah’s body, it might help to preserve her. ‘Um, close enough,’ he said.
‘Good. Okay.’ Darla glanced up and down the street. An early morning jogger was headed their way, but he rounded a corner several blocks down. She clapped her hands together and smiled. ‘I’ve got a plan.’
‘You get into your body, then grab as much ice stuff as you can in bags or whatever, right? I have to take care of something real quick. What car does your dad drive?’
‘A land rover.’
‘Nice. Find his keys, then load up the trunk with all the ice. Don’t take your sister out of the freezer until I get back. I won’t be long.’
‘Why? Where are you going?’
‘That depends…’ She turned away, scratching the scales on the back of her head. She seemed to be scanning the other houses on the street for something, and when she looked back at him there was something like guilt in her expression. ‘Which one of your neighbours has pets?’