Hollis kept looking at the word carved into Greta’s skin: Nevermore.
He had done little else since Oliver had left. The door had closed of its own accord and there he had sat, content just to look at the woman he used to love.
Hollis had grown so complacent in their relationship that he had started to hate her, the sound of her voice, the look of her hair when she was just out of the shower; but he’d loved things about her too: the sound of her laugh, how she would always call him in the middle of the day just to say hello, how big her heart had been and the love she gave him.
Eventually, though, the hate outgrew the things he loved about Greta. He should have ended things with her years ago, but they had been together for so long, even though he refused to move in with her or have her move in with him. He wasn’t sure when he had stopped listening to her, when her voice had begun to grate rather then enrapture. Hollis wished he could tell her he was sorry.
“You’re such a sorry excuse for a man.”
Hollis looked around him for the voice.
“Down here fuckwad. It’s not like I can move you know. I’m just here, lying on my back. But then again, you did always love the missionary style the best because you were boring and didn’t want to get inventive. Would it have killed you to use some whips every now and again? Or some balloons and whip cream? Jesus!”
He looked down at Greta. She couldn’t be speaking. She couldn’t be. “Greta?” He whispered.
Her corpse flicked her eyes so she was looking at him. “Who else dipshit. God, you’re such a pathetic excuse for a man. Oliver gives you an important duty, one that many would kill for because it would mean that they were still alive, and you sit there doing nothing, reminiscing about times past when you weren’t such a fuck up.”
“He hasn’t come back to see me. I think he’s forgotten about me.”
“You have ears, don’t you? There are dead women walking all over the place, demon possessed tea cup poodles, Rottweiler’s, tons of dead people. Do you have any idea what’s going on? What part it is that you have to play?”
“No, no I don’t. He hasn’t told me.”
“Clueless as per usual. You’re useless Hollis.”
“He chose me.”
“Oliver chose you because you’re weak and stupid. That’s the only reason.” He began to move her arms and legs. Soon she was supporting herself as if she were a crab and then she was partially upright. As Greta move, the wounds on her neck and stomach opened some more letting blood drip onto his apartment floor like motor oil.
“What are you doing? You can’t move, you’re dead!” He hated hearing the fear in his voice, hated how much he lacked courage.
Greta laughed a loud, wet cackle. “Do you think being dead will stop me? Stop any of us? You have no idea, none at all. But you will.”
She was standing completely now and glowered at him, her flesh white and pallid from blood loss. Greta reached to the chain around her neck and pulled down. It came away from her throat and still she pulled down. It was a moment before Hollis realized that she was opening herself as if she had a zipper.
He pissed himself as she opened her front wide and someone stepped out of her skin. He had thick soled shoes and was wearing black pants splattered in blood so that the pants looked wet instead of covered in blood. Slowly he reached up and removed Greta’s face as if he were removing a mask and let the shell of skin fall to the ground like a discarded towel.
“Good evening Hollis.” Oliver said in his whisper.
Hollis was pretty sure he was about to shit himself too. Clenching his hands he tried to keep his fear under control. “What do you want with me?”
“Everything, Hollis. You needn’t look so afraid. I told you that I wasn’t going to kill you yet. As I told you before we have to keep the dumb ones around. I need you to gather up the dead.”
“Has someone died?”
“My, you are behind the times. Giles was eaten by rats, Blaine was sliced to death with my knife. Colleen had her throat cut. That’s three. The rest seem so intent on living, despite my best intentions to bring them joy. The trannies are still alive, Petunia is still alive and is being aided by two new others. LaWanda is close to death but I have more to show her yet. Diane is inside my mirror with her daughter. Still the rest live. They deny me the right to bring them joy.”
“But I know these people!” Hollis yelled. “There’s nothing I can do.”
“Hollis, you disappoint me. I kept you alive for a reason. You have a great purpose.”
“You can’t just kill everyone. I won’t let you.”
Oliver laughed. “And what will you do? Piss yourself again? You’re weak Hollis. I ask you one simple thing, to gather up the dead. To gather up all those that are still living, and you deny me?”
“I won’t do it. You took my Greta from me. She was all I had in the world.”
“My, you are stupid. You leave me no choice.”
Oliver held out his hand and a bolt of black lightning flew from his fingertips right into Hollis’ chest. “You remind me of my son. He was weak too, didn’t understand the beauty and joy in death. Instead of you, I will give him one final chance.”
The black lightning covered his whole body now and was eating his skin. Hollis knew that it was eating away at him, at all that made him what he was. As Hollis’ soul was ripped out of his boy, a small part of him remained inside of his head. He could feel when something else entered his body, knew that someone else lived now within the shell of his skin. When it spoke, it did so with his lips.
Oliver lifted his hand away and the black lightning ceased. “Soon, Frederick. Soon.”