Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls (32 page)

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
3.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

pay for this,” he said.

lunged at him. “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” Broken nose and busted lip or not—But
Molochai and Nothing moved quickly, hauling Zillah out to the porch and down
the steps. Steve saw a dingy black van parked at the end of the driveway, its
tailpipe already belching exhaust. He thought of trying to get the license
number, but knew he wouldn’t call the cops: they were happy to bust you for
underage drinking or possession of weed, but not too thrilled when you wanted
anything else done.

slammed the front door. Three shadows—one large and unkempt, two small and slim
and bowed—slid across the window. Then they were gone.

went back to Ghost’s room. Ghost was lying flat on his back, looking at the
stars on the ceiling. His hands lay limp on the blanket. Steve sat on the edge
of the bed, “Shit,” he said.

still have a show to do tonight.”

be there,” Ghost told him with absolute certainty.


black van cruised Missing Mile for an hour. The town was so small that they
passed the same places four or five times. Nothing sat with his face pressed to
the window. Zillah lay on the mattress for a while, still dazed from the blows
he had taken.

thought guiltily of how he had hurled himself across the room and thrown Zillah
against the wall, how it must have hurt. He hadn’t even thought about doing it;
he had just seen the bat in Zillah’s hands, about to come down on Ghost’s
skull, and he had known that Ghost’s death would be lodged in his heart forever
if he didn’t do something fast.

maybe Zillah would abandon him on the highway Somewhere, or maybe all three of
them would kill him, their teeth and tongues burrowing into the soft parts of
his body as he had done to Laine. Nothing found that he didn’t much care. He
had fucked up. He had tried to have everything he wanted, all at once, and now
it was all swirling down the drain.

a while Zillah propped himself up and stared moodily out at the dusty
storefronts, the gas station with its wooden facade and old-fashioned pumps,
the psychedelic red-and-blue whirligig in the window of the Whirling Disc
record store. Soon Zillah’s head drooped forward onto his knees. When Nothing
tried to hug him, Zillah pulled away.

had seen his friends back home use such behavior on one another. When one of
Julie’s previous boyfriends got her twentieth-row Cure tickets for her birthday
instead of the tenth-row ones she had wanted, Julie appeared to undergo a
grieving process of major proportions. She sat in her room reading the poetry
of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Six pounds melted from her already skinny
frame. When anyone at school tried to talk to her, she would stand dramatically
silent for several seconds, then slowly shake her head and walk away. In short,
she sulked for a week.

Zillah was doing the same thing. Nothing was only a little angry at being
manipulated; he deserved it for getting Zillah hurt. What made him angrier was
that it worked.

was responsible for the pall that had been cast over the day. Zillah’s
beautiful face was all torn up, and that alone made Nothing feel as if he’d pissed
on the Mona Lisa or something. No one was tripping anymore, and no one had
started drinking yet.

van’s usual air of carnival was gone, and the mood that replaced it was flat,

wondered, not for the first time, how old the others were. He had thought them
older and more sophisticated than he, but right now they were acting like a
bunch of teenagers who are mad at each other but aren’t sure why.

third time they drove past the record store, Twig slowed the van and pointed out
a sign taped to the window. “Hey kiddo. Look at that.”

looked. The sign was a grainy photocopy like the gravestone on the Lost Souls?

Only this was a picture of a stone angel, wings spread, hand raised in warning
or benediction, idiot gaze downcast. Written across the picture in large curly

the Sacred
?” Molochai wanted to know. “Is it in
the graveyard?”

must be a club,” Nothing said. All at once he made up his mind. Zillah might be
glad to get rid of him; if not, then they could kill him here, right in the
middle of Missing Mile. “You can let me out anywhere,” he told Twig. “I’m going
to see that show.”

slowed the van. “You’re leaving? Just when things were starting to get

at least eat him,” said Molochai in a loud sotto voce.

seemed to wake up. He raised his head and looked at Nothing. Nothing stared
back at him for a long moment, trying to register just what he was seeing. The
torn skin of Zillah’s mouth was knitting itself back together; its appearance
was already closer to fresh pink scar tissue than raw wound. The smashed
cartilage of his nose was straightening, rebuilding itself.

his gums were still bleeding—but not from the teeth he had lost. They bled
because new teeth were coming in, poking white and shiny through the tender
pink flesh.

is a goddamn pain in the ass,” said Zillah.

lowered his eyes. “I know.”

second it’s growing back is agony. I can feel each cell stretching itself
toward the next one, each nerve end screaming. And do you know when was the
last time I had to be carried out of a place? DO YOU?”


I was about your age. I’d been picked up by a pretty young artillery officer in
Savannah, Georgia. I made him take me to a company party—posed as his little
brother —where they served a punch you could have embalmed corpses with. It was
made of wine, rum, gin, brandy, whiskey, champagne …”

thought of a concoction he and Laine had mixed in a Mason jar when they’d been
learning to drink—an inch from every bottle in their parents’ liquor cabinets.
They had dry-heaved for days.

lost control of myself. Broke a gentle lady’s arm, bit through her left nipple,
and put out one of her eyes. It took five men to knock me out and carry me

hanged me from a live oak, and I cut myself down. And that was the last time it
happened, do you understand? THE LAST TIME UNTIL TODAY!”

face was an inch from Nothing’s now; he could actually see particles of skin
forming on Zillah’s lips, forming a thin web, then meshing.

understand,” he told Zillah. “I’m getting out here.”

stared at him. “No,” he whispered. “No. You mustn’t.” A strange smile played
upon his half-healed features. “Your friends weren’t hurt, were they? And
you’ve learned your lesson. Why don’t we stay and see the show with you?”

at last, Zillah stretched out his hands. The palms were turned up and the
fingers were trembling slightly. Nothing was almost sure the tremor was
genuine. Almost.

took Zillah’s hands in his own and kissed them.

through the remainder of the afternoon Steve was bored and restless. Ghost
watched him do the Steve Finn equivalent of pacing the floor. He folded his
long body into a hundred positions on the couch. He pulled the ratty coverlet
around him and tried to read. He picked up his guitar, then his banjo, but put
them down without touching the strings. He got out an old shoebox full of stuff
Ann had sent him, letters and notes and postcards with weird little messages on
them. With one finger Steve poked at an envelope, prying at the stamp with his
fingernail, slowly peeling it away from the paper. Then he did the same thing
to a second stamp. When he started on a third, Ghost got up and went to his

took off his clothes and curled up in bed. For an hour he lay listening to the
syrupy dark voices on the gospel radio station, trying not to think about the
strangers who had broken into his house. He was sure he had dreamed about
Nothing—for Ghost, having a dream about something he was going to do or
somebody he was going to meet was as common as getting a call from a friend.

recollection came to him. Something about the name Zillah. The flower-seller
had mentioned that name, his pale face snapping up eagerly: “Have you news of

was the connection. But Ghost still didn’t know who they were or what they
wanted in Missing Mile. And three of today’s visitors had a look that reminded
Ghost of the twins on the hill: a sleek gloss, a well fed but somehow unhealthy

did not have that look, not yet. But the others were obviously old hands at—
whatever sort of pain and death they dealt. Ghost only
knew that they didn’t feel human, though judging from the new bite mark on
Steve’s hand and the bruises on his wrists and legs where Molochai and Twig had
held him down, they were more corporeal than the twins on the hill.

he was doing a great job of not thinking about them. He was glad toward early
evening when Steve stuck his head in and said, “Let’s head on over and do the
sound check. We can grab a couple of beers before the show.”

got dressed fast, pulling on a pair of jeans torn out at the knees, a baggy T-shirt
and sweater, his army jacket, his hat with the colored streamers. When he went
out, Steve was standing by the front door rattling the knob, jiggling his
guitar case, glancing toward the window every few seconds. Ghost decided not to
talk about the visitors. Not yet. Steve would bring it up if he wanted to.

was relieved to get into the T-bird and sit back, watching the cold empty roads
slip by, letting Steve vent his frustration on the steering wheel, the gas
pedal, the radio whose knob he twisted as if wreaking vengeance on the music.
The roads were nearly empty tonight. Ghost saw a rusty blue pickup, its bed
pried high with pumpkins that mirrored the pale orange light of the moon. He
saw a Greyhound bus going north. The air inside the T-bird was heavy with
Steve’s restlessness. Ghost knew Steve would get very drunk tonight.

what the hell. So would he. Maybe.

after the music was over.

the Sacred Yew, they did their sound check. Ghost sat on the edge of the stage,
swinging his legs, listening to Steve curse the club’s shitty PA, occasionally
singing a few lines into the microphone. When the check was over, Steve headed
for the bar, a separate room at the back of the club. Ghost followed, trailing
his fingers along the hand-painted, crayoned, and Magic
mural on the wall. He had drawn part of the mural himself. Anyone who wanted to
add to it could—Kinsey kept pens and finger paints behind the bar.

knew every corner of the Yew, every one of the fancy antique-gold ceiling tiles
Kinsey had put in, every graffiti in the restrooms. When you played at a club
forty weeks out of a year, it got to be home.

soon as Ghost came into the bar, Steve handed him a can of Budweiser. Kinsey
Hummingbird was serving at the bar, smiling his awkwardly amiable smile,
already setting up a second beer for Steve. Steve finished his first one and
started on the next.

BOOK: Poppy Z. Brite - 1992 - Lost Souls
3.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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