This morning—there is no time here, we’ll call it morning, but it could be night—Sister brought me a boy to kill, a beautiful blond boy in a burial suit. Sister has a knack for stealing corpses from funeral parlors. Down here, in the abandoned tunnels beneath the city, the killings are just rehearsal. Though the boy was already dead, Sister says we need to practice. During the Rising the bodies will have heartbeats and voices for screaming. The beautiful blond boy didn’t say a word when I bit into his neck.
“Higher,” Sister said, moving my jaw so that my teeth struck the middle of his vein. Our technique must be precise. Traces of formaldehyde burned my lips, but I drank from his vein until sated, until Sister left me, until I hid in the corner and threw up.
My name eludes me now, but I remember things, shards of memory that flitter like the filaments in a dying bulb. I was a soldier, someone’s husband, and a father, I think. Things went bad…this is true for all of us down here…things went bad, and Sister found us living on the street. She fed me soup and a piece of bread, let me smoke half her cigarette, and I followed her into this tunnel, this crypt. I refuse to call it home. Sister keeps us isolated, but others are being trained for the Rising, like me. We are mortal but Sister is Eternal. She promises us the same once the Rising is complete, but eternity is damnation.
I don’t tell Sister, but I don’t want to Rise. All I want is to stop.
When we come for them, Sister tells me, they will fight us as if we’ve stepped from a screen instead of risen from the cesspool they created. We mock the legends. We hang crucifixes from the ceiling and bat at them with sticks; we gargle with Holy Water. When the Rising begins, we’ll appear in the mist, in the shadows, slashing throats and drinking until we’re full. Consider yourself warned: we’re coming, and it will hurt.
I swore I’d never kill again. They told me I was crazy, sent me to the hospital, to the pill line, Uncle Dope wants YOU! I hate it here, don’t ever want to kill again, but Sister is the only one who needs me. We’re the dark people, and it’s our time to rise.
Sister tells me she was born of the night, her mother gang-raped in a cemetery beneath the full moon and left to die. But the moon rescued her, held her in its light for nine months, until her mother returned to the cemetery and gave birth to Sister on the night of the vernal equinox. Her mother tracked down the three men who raped her and gave them a photo of Sister. Then she stabbed each one in the throat with a pair of sewing scissors and baptized Sister in their blood. She remembers the moonlight on the faces of the dead men, their shocked expressions when her mother arrived. We wait for the moon to call us again so we can rise.
When I returned from the war, my family tried to help. My wife, bless her, did everything to make me feel safe and loved. Look, I didn’t start the fire, I’m sure of it. But I didn’t move either, and our two-year old suffered smoke inhalation and second-degree burns. No, I did not start the fire …Colleen (I think that is her name) came home and saw the flames, the couch engulfed while I sat on the floor watching TV, eating popcorn. It’s better that I’m gone. There were shelters, I think, but I preferred the street. Sleep behind an alley dumpster and no one will ever touch you. Except Sister.
There was a full moon the night she came. “They will never forgive you,” she said, and by instinct I followed her to an abandoned lot at the edge of the city. Stepped over weeds and broken glass, listened to the cries of feral cats in heat. The husks of wrecked cars and twisted metal littered the yard, the moonlight reflecting off sheets of torn aluminum jutting from the ground. By the barbed wire fence I saw an old sofa, like the one in our house, and when Sister took my hand, the sofa burst into flames.
In that moment, I loved her.
Sister pulls me from the corner and leads me through the corridor to a large opening, where candles line the floor, a grate in the ceiling showing patches of moonlight. For the first time I see the others, men and women like myself, dirty, cold, and scared. We form a circle around Sister. Has the Rising begun?
Sister closes her eyes, points her scissors to the sky, the moonlight catching the rusty blade, and the man beside me drops to his knees and howls. He wears hospital scrubs and a baseball cap; his bare feet streaked with blood. On all fours he throws back his head and bays at the moon. The others do the same, even me, I’m on the ground knees hurt so much cement howling like an animal, my tongue dripping spit, and does Sister know I’m faking?
“Tonight you will hunt for me,” Sister says. In her hand are palm leaves tied in a cross, a Holy Crucifix, and she bites off the top and swallows the palms, and I wonder again if Sister is real or am I still in the hospital like before? But she must be real, because the others can see her, and when she waves her arms, they jump and rush toward the metal steps that lead aboveground, and Sister tells them to bring back something young and pretty and alive.
We’re alone when Sister tells me I must hunt.
“We purify ourselves before we rise,” Sister tells me. “A sacrifice is required.”
I’ve followed orders and hunted before. Never again, I swore, but Sister doesn’t know.
“They despise us. What you knew is gone. What you are now is still becoming. Listen to the moon, and you will do what you must.”
Sister kisses my forehead and hands me the scissors. “Follow me,” she says, and together we climb the ladder into the night, where the bodies are waiting.
The coffee is black and hot, loaded with sugar packs, the only thing I’ve tasted in weeks. In my pocket there’s enough loose change for coffee and a burger, served with a pickle and slaw, free refills on the coffee, I can sit here all night. Sister waits outside, eager for me to drag the waitress back to the sewers, where we’ll slit her throat and soothe our skin with the lotion of her blood. Shelby, her name tag reads. She’s young, plump, and pretty, even smiles when I explain the sunglasses at night. War wound. “Thank you for your service,” she chirps, and brings me an order of fries on the house.
“Not her, not this one,” I tell Sister, but the waitress’s days are numbered anyway. When the Rising begins, everything sweet plump Shelby knows will be extinguished. If we take her now, she’ll die with hope. But I don’t want to do it.
“In another world, your reluctance would be admirable,” Sister says. “But you’ve been exiled from that world. You’ve already killed. All those broken bodies sanctioned by your Colonel. These bodies are sanctioned by the moon. By what authority does your Colonel outrank the moon?”
“Another refill before you go?” Shelby asks, her flesh redolent of sweat and apple pie. “We’re closing in ten minutes, sweetie.”
If only I had money for a tip, but Sister tells me the waitress will never see the morning to spend it.
I wait behind the dumpster, Sister whispering that she loves me, and when the back door opens, Shelby in her jacket and sneakers reaching in her purse for her keys, I strike like they taught me in Basic, like Sister taught me in the sewers, an arm around her throat, the scissors poised against her warm pink belly.
“Please…please don’t kill me. I’ll do what you want. I’ll suck it, right here…” Shelby says. “Please, my baby needs me.”
I’m a parent, too, but Sister tells me that I’m nothing now, I’m the wicked and despised, and so I turn pretty Shelby around and see her desperate eyes and I want to let her go, please, Sister, for the sake of the baby, but in The Rising even the babies will be ours. Sister says it’s time to practice, let’s take the baby, too. No. No. Sister’s voice is a whisper and Shelby doesn’t see her as I push her toward the car. Drive and maybe you won’t get hurt. Shelby drops her keys, her hand trembling, and I feel her ready to fight, to scratch, kick, and bite, anything to escape the destiny in my dead black eyes, but I want to make Sister proud, and I grab the keys and push Shelby into the car, behind the wheel, the scissors ready as I slip into the backseat and shout for her to drive.
“I have sixty-seven dollars,” Shelby says. “Take my Visa. I won’t tell anyone.”
I follow her eyes in the rear-view mirror as she backs her tired Honda out of its spot, the chassis screaming as the wheel turns, her tire crunching a discarded Coke can.
“The thing is, we’re like a pipe, Sister says.”
Shelby pulls onto the dark road mumbling please God, please God as if I can’t hear her.
“At first it’s a drip, a minor leak, and it’s too much effort to do anything about it, so everyone ignores it, but the primary rule of the universe dictates that the ignored only grows stronger, drip, drip, drip, until the pipe bursts and there’s water up to your ankles, up to your head, and when the water fills your mouth and you can’t even scream anymore and you wonder what happened… it was just a drip …that’s the Rising. Do you understand what I’m saying? I didn’t cause the pipe to break. I’m only the water bursting through.”
There’s an empty car seat beside me, a white stuffed rabbit with a missing eye wedged between the straps. “Boy or girl?” and Shelby answers, “Girl…Melinda…she’s only nine months…please.”
If she stopped the car, I could run off and let her be whatever she might become. I don’t want to hurt a baby named Melinda or her sweet plump Shelby of a mom, but Sister is there on the corner, in the headlight splash, Sister with some man I’ve never seen, and another man, on his knees, arms folded across his chest, Sister holding his head with her hands, no skin now, the intricate pathways of joints and bone clutching a stranger’s head while the other man thrusts the scissors into the victim’s right eye.
“…her father isn’t much help, and my parents think I’ve screwed up my life, and my sister has two kids of her own…please.”
Once the Rising begins, what difference will it make if poor Shelby is alive or dead? On that goddamn patrol we already knew we’d lost the war. But we had orders, still do, Sister needs an offering and a sacrifice, we need Shelby’s sweet warm blood, I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, I kiss the scissors and point them at her neck. “Pull over. Your baby shouldn’t see this.”
Shelby’s crying and Sister waits in the headlights, eyes closed, a blissful smile, only Sister loves me. When the Rising begins, the world will bow and worship her.
“Please…please…” Shelby cries, and then, “…fuck you!”
She spins the wheel and the car swerves. Nothing but darkness as we slam into a tree.
There’s an I.V. in my left arm, my right hand cuffed to the bed, and in the angled light outside the open door a Security Guard sits on a metal chair, staring at his phone. I hear them say that Shelby is on a different floor, broken ribs, broken wrist, a concussion, but she’ll live, she’ll live, they say, as if this will hurt me, but I’m glad Shelby’s name won’t be on my soul, though her time is over anyway. Sister tells me the Rising has begun.
The TV on the wall never shuts off. A string of murders across the city. A decapitated man found on the highway shoulder. A librarian with both wrists slashed open, her alabaster body drained of its blood. In a movie theater the usher opened the door for the 10:00 PM showing as the credits played, a giant trashcan at the top of the aisle ready for the empty buckets of popcorn and crushed soda cups, only nobody moved, all seventeen moviegoers slumped dead in their seats, a scissors protruding from each of their necks.
I hear the nurse consulting with the doctor in the hall. Clozaril and Haldol, nothing they haven’t tried before, but it doesn’t matter because Sister is coming. So much I want to see her again, but I know the carnage that she’ll bring, a hospital, so many bodies, don’t they know about the Rising? If only I could call my wife, I’ll beg Sister not to take her and the baby, Melinda, no, my son, Alex, Sister please don’t rise until Alex is safe.
The nurse comes with her syringe and the Guard and a cop who glares like I’m shit on the heel of his shined black boot, that’s all I’ve been for months now, all I am without Sister and the moon.
“Lock the doors, she’s coming.”
“Shut up, felon,” Cop says. The nurse pulls back.
“I heard on the news…” Nurse says.
“It’s a hoax, social media garbage,” Cop says.
“It started in China, I heard,” Guard says.
“I heard it’s a bunch of white supremacists.”
“He’s just some dumb-ass felon who picked the wrong waitress to fuck with. She’ll walk out of here tomorrow while his ass does twenty to life in State.”
I shake my arm, the cuffs rattling against the metal bed frame. “Sister tells me…”
“Sister tells you nothing,” Cop hisses. “It’s all in your psycho head, felon. Nurse, give him his meds so we can get the hell away from him.”
The needle finds the vein, and the screaming begins. Only it’s not my voice; the screaming echoes in the corridors, and the cop and the guard rush toward the door, the Nurse’s face turned pale as she drops the spent syringe into a plastic bag, following protocols even as her world begins its descent.
“If you unlock these handcuffs, Sister might take pity on you.”
“I…don’t have the key,” Nurse stutters, but she doesn’t move as we listen to the Rising begin. The crash of overturned med carts and the screams of the patients meeting Sister’s wrath. “Stop,” Cop shouts, as if the Rising could be halted by words. Three shots, bullets pinging off the walls.
“…side effects include hallucinations…” Nurse says, but it’s her hallucination that makes her think she might escape. It’s always us, never them, they’ll delude themselves about the Rising right until the end.
Sister appears in the doorway, her black hair glimmering, the skirt of her red dress slit to her thighs, her left hand extended, her right hand behind her back, where the scissors wait.
“Visiting hours are over, ma’am,” Nurse says.
But Sister steps into the room with a loving smile only I can see, police running down the hallway, the screams of the Rising seeping through the walls. The empty bed on the other side of the curtain erupts in flames, and when the Nurse turns to run Sister stabs her in the heart and I know it’s real as the blood trickles down the front of her olive scrubs.
“What lies fallow in the moonlight is the curse they can’t escape,” Sister tells me. She unlocks the handcuffs and helps me from the bed. The Nurse, her back propped against the wall, presses her chest to stem the bleeding. Alarms blare as Sister shuts the door and leads me to the Nurse.
“As we practiced,” Sister says, and I position my mouth with the center of Nurse’s jugular, ignoring her slaps, her thrashing legs, the same way they ignored me and drove me into the streets. “Tonight, we rise,” Sister says, my teeth ripping into the Nurse’s flesh, her vein in my mouth like a teat, I don’t want to do it, but the blood is as warm as the smoke from the burning bed surrounding us until Nurse’s heart stops beating. Alarms everywhere in my head, my chin and neck smeared with blood, and I follow Sister into the corridor to join the others, the meds flooding my brain but what does it matter now, I’m under the orders of the moon. We march into the night like death, ready to rise. Sister says we will never be forgiven.
D.C. Marcus grew up in New Jersey reading Twilight Zone Magazine and the classic Shadows anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant.