Chapter III (We should give it a bath)
Sometimes, when you step into a house, you just know it's empty. Without waiting for the angel's approval, I stepped out the meat suit, allowing it to sliver wetly to the ground.
Lissa gave me a look but the pain on my face must have been apparent as, with a sigh, she stooped down, slinging a corpse's arm around her neck. I followed suit.
Three stories, two flights of a stairs and a considerable amount of suspicious scuffs and stains later, we made it to the top floor. I exhaled my relief, trying not to trip over dragging feet as we made our laboured way to my door.
We had made it so far, we were so close to complete success. I pushed my door open and stepped in. Lissa made to follow but her foot caught on something on the floor. She tripped. We fell. The whole thing went to pieces.
I turned as my body fell. But it was too late. The weak point of my concave skull landed on the corner of the bed and subsided further. I did not know where I was more sickened by the fact that I was going to have to do another load of washing or that the cadaver's eyes now bulged with the intensity of an inbred dog.
I crawled forward and poked them back into their normal positions, thankful that, from the front, no lasting damage had been sustained.
Wiping my ghostly fingers on my shirt. I looked into the late Flora's hollow eyes.
"Why you are a beautiful thing." I muttered, studying my misty reflection. I patted a blood stained cheek patronisingly and stood.
Lissa was spewing profanities.
"What the fuck is this!"
She waved a box in my face. I took it gently but decisively from her hand.
"That's a carton of cat's milk." I said.
"Yeah." I cradled the cardboard container to my chest for a moment and returned it lovingly to the spot on the floor directly outside my door.
Lissa crouched down at my side, the body and our fate forgotten.
"What is all this stuff?" She breathed, her eyes roaming over the little treasure trove that blocked my entry.
"That's a nut cracker." I said, pointing. "And that's an opened pot of jelly. That's a novelty sized pencil. This is lube, those are novelty milk chocolate breasts. That's a dented tin of tomato puree next to the packet of celebrity endorsed condoms..."
This list continued for a while. The objects were as varied and useless as they sounded. Every element, bar the condoms and the lube, was tied to its fellows by a only single banner of inclusion: the bright yellow reduced sticker of the local supermarket brand.
Lissa's eyes were wide by the time I had finished. She crouched down, fondling my keepsakes. With a quizzical expression, she held up a little note with the words: 'I 3 Flora, she's my one + only 3' scrawled in messy felt tip pen.
"I know what they are." She said. "But what are they? Why do you have a mountain of useless crap piled outside your door?"
"They're my gifts." I said.
I pointed to the bedroom door opposite mine.
"Cloé gives them to me." I said. "It's kind of a tradition."
"And you just leave them here? To go rotten and trip you up?"
I shrugged again.
"They make me smile."
I imagined Cloé's face, her cheeks lit with the glee when she knew I'd discovered another item of ingenious rubbish outside my door. The objects did not appear all at once, the pile just had a tendency to grow when I was not paying attention. I had once received some torn pieces of tortilla and a note that promised, quite insistently, that it had not been used to wipe unmentionable things. Of all the items, that had lasted on the floor for the shortest length of time.
If I was hungry, I was told to make soup with cat food and dried rice. If I had an exam I was told to take a 40cm ruler with the word 'Seaworld!' inscribed down the side.
Lissa still seemed to be having an issue.
"So your housemate buys you condoms, lube and tomato puree?"
"My housemate and her boyfriend."
"Your housemate's boyfriend buys you condoms?"
"Only this brand."
"How many times has he bought you condoms?"
"Twice." Then I rethought. "Well, no, he gave me some he'd been given for free once as well. But only after I'd used them did we discovered they're gone past their best before date."
I pulled a face.
Lissa leant further out into the hall, using her spread wings to anchor her to the doorframe.
"This is..." She said, and ran out of words.
"It's genius." I replied, "but you've left a corpse in my bedroom and I think it's leaking."
"I think we've got to give it a bath." Lissa announced.
"Fuck off." I muttered, sullenly.
She sat on my windowsill, her wings spread against the sunlight. It was all very well for her but with nothing but the false orange glow from my cheap, energy efficient light bulb, the room had become quite claustrophobic. I was curled beneath her, my legs flush to my chin. I glowered, attempting to stare out my solid counterpart. It was a pretty fair battle but I was still winning.
The body continued to slouch bonelessly on my desk chair, exactly how we had left it, it's arms all akimbo. I hated that it still managed to look quite professional, like an executive scarecrow.
Lissa was obviously becoming used to my disgust and she drawled her response quite calmly. There was something about an eleven watt glow that killed the soul. Even one as obviously annihilated as this angel's.
"If we even stand the slightest chance of fooling Hayel," she said, "it's got to look like it's still living."
She waved a lazy hand at the blotchy mess.
"That doesn't look living."
"That's 'cos it isn't." I muttered, loathingly. "Selfish piece of shit."
Lissa sighed, plummeting off the windowsill and over my head. There was hardly enough room for her to spread her wings in here but she did it for effect, tumbling rudely through my ethereal form.
"Come on." She growled but there was no real passion behind the words.
"I won't do it." I announced for the sake only of tradition and pulled myself reluctantly from the bed.
Lissa abstained from obvious reaction.
"Go and make sure the coast is clear."
I lived next-door to the bathroom. We did not need to travel far and the corridor was empty.
"Go on then." I slurred, despondently. "No one's here."
Lissa had already wrapped a dead arm around her shoulder and I joined her at the opposite side, heaving our third party upright. It no longer looked like an office worker, it looked like a drunken mess.
I smiled. Much better.
We began our painstaking shuffle to the bathroom. My metaphorical skin crawled beneath my own, clammy touch. Anyone could appear at any moment and I had no idea what sight they would see. The realisation of a fresh corpse would not, in any case, be a pretty situation.
Lissa swore, tripping, once more, over the gifts outside my door. I followed her daintily. It was a thing I had become used to.
"It's like having a fucking cat." She cursed, disentangling herself from the crushed pack of dried onions.
"No it's not." I grinned for the first time since dying. "Cat's bring you dead things. Lube and chocolate genitalia aid in procreation."
I felt an odd pang of disappointment as I realised that 'procreation' was not something I was ever going to have a chance at attempting again.
We collapsed into the bathroom and Lissa slung the body to the floor, rolling the weight off her shoulders.
"And giant pencils?" She asked. "Don't tell me that nut crackers and cat milk make entertaining foreplay as well."
"Depends on the mood." I said.
Lissa's eyes narrowed.
"You're kidding." She said.
Of course I was.
I slid the lock across, smiling smugly as I did it.
"You'd be surprised at how inventive the human race can be in times of heightened passion." I said. "Tuna, fruit pastilles and yoghurt being prime examples. How different is a nut cracker from a whip, or a set of paddles?"
Lissa kicked the gory huddle that had already stained the tile flooring. It appeared to have become a habit.
"I don't know which half of you disgusts me more." She said. "Your twisted fantasies or whatever that black stuff is that's dribbling out your mouth."
I bent to the floor, studying the ichor in question.
"I'm sure it would be ok if it had decided to stay where it was supposed to be." I said, morbidly fascinated. I wasn't a smoker but I was guessing lungs. I didn't remember having eaten tar.
Lissa shook her head.
"And you were supposed to be someone great."
"I'm sure there was a mix up." I replied calmly.
The angel ruffled her wings. I wondered if she kept forgetting how much trouble she was supposed to be in. She looked from the bathtub to the bloody mess on the floor and back again.
"How do we go about doing this?" She asked.
I turned the water onto its highest temperature - scalding- and dumped the body in. I was merciless. I was cold.
I should have been killing things a long time ago.
The water had already begun to swirl with a hundred sickening tones of crimson and black. I considered adding bubble bath.
With the ruffle of feathers, Lissa joined my side and leant over the tub. I furrowed my eyebrows as her bony claws began to pluck at the, already sodden, hoody.
"What are you doing?" I asked, suspiciously.
She turned to me, innocent and confused.
"We can't wash it in its clothes." She said. "It won't get done properly."
"I know that." I growled. "What I want to know is why are you stripping me?"
"Oh." She looked at her hands, clasping the front of my jumper. Her forehead knitted together in confusion. If she wasn't such a ghastly sight, it would have been quite sweet. "So you're going to do it, then?" She asked.
"Well I guess I'm going to have to." I snarled pointedly, sarcasm dripping. "Unless of course you know of some third, helpful, aspect of my former unified personage that could lend a hand."
She shook her head, shuffling to the door in the face of my affront. I kicked her out and pulled the bolt across behind.
I sensed her awkward form hovering behind the threshold.
"So, I'll just wait out here, in case you need me?"
"Do whatever makes you happy." I said.
I turned back to the job at hand. The water continued to cascade from the tap, tumultuous and near boiling. Or so it seemed. When I placed my ghostly hands in the steaming liquid I felt nothing.
Oh, I was so very dead.
It hit me. Dead, cold, lifeless. I had nothing left in this world but a stray angel and the remains of a violent Highway robbery.
I ran my hands through the bathwater, sighing. No Jason, no Cloé, no Jack. All I had was this. I tried to brush my eyes closed like they did on the movies but quickly left it when I realised rigour mortis affected every muscle in the body, even the very smallest ones.
I held up a hand and studied its semi-transparent form. Sticking a dejected finger through my palm I had to conclude it certainly made an impressive sight but it was not natural. The other hand that had once belonged to me floated lifelessly in a pink stew of blood, water and brain tissue. I would have liked to have taken the romantic view, I would have liked to have believed it had turned white as snow. But it had not. It was grey, like cold porridge, and the fissure lines of empty blue veins ran beneath the surface. This was not me either.
Dropping it back into the water with a splash, I stood. And, just like that, the depression slid away. I smiled. Temperature, matter, emotion: these things affected the dead as little as the cool caress of a summer breeze.
I grabbed a new pack of soap from the shelves above the toilette. I would need a whole one after all. After a moment's thought, I decided against the bubble bath and grabbed a handful of bath salt. The smell would be more than welcome and, who knew, it might even have gone some way toward preservation.
I began to tear blood caked, water drenched clothing from the corpse in the bathtub. A tune drifted, unbidden, into my head and I began to hum, taken by its appropriateness.
"Are you humming the pink panther tune while you strip yourself?"
Lissa's voice wafted through the locked door.
"Fuck off!" I shouted cheerfully and heard her shuffle sullenly away.