The first time Thea woke from death, a sour-faced man in a top hat with a peacock-blue band held his fingers pressed to her lips. Was this man shushing her? Who was he to shush her? His lips were moving but she couldn’t make out a word he was uttering. A sharp pain split her thoughts. He muttered something at her in a tongue foreign to her. His black gloved hand held her, keeping her from getting to her feet. Again, a pain split her head and dazzling lights danced across her vision. Perhaps he was right, moving felt like the wrong idea.
Lying in the mud of the alleyway, from where she’d exited moments before, a wet cold seeped through her skirts. She’d ducked out the back of the Shangri-La Theatre, where she’d witnessed an abysmally boring magic show. Thank goodness she hadn’t wasted money, of which she had none, on that spectacle. The last thing she remembered was slipping in the mud as a black automobile barreled down on her. In fact, she could still hear the rumble of the automobile now.
The man pulled a silk kerchief from his pocket and thoroughly wiped his hands. As he walked away, Thea noticed there wasn’t a spot of mud on his long black frock coat. What she wouldn’t give for a frock like that on a chilly morning. “You’re welcome,” he said before he climbed into the carriage of his automobile and disappeared.
The second time Thea woke from death a terrible whimpering greeted her ears. Loneliness and hunger had driven her toward a quick exit off the top of the Shangri-La Theatre. A foul-fragranced tongue lapped at her face. She opened her eyes against the midday sun to find a street-rough mutt barking for help and licking her face. The only passing soul interested in her fate, he too seemed to understand hunger and loneliness. She named him Jack.
It took months, but together, they tracked down the man in the top hat with the peacock-blue band.
“What is this?” she demanded.
His face turned sourer as he looked from Thea to Jack. “I didn’t have time for the legalities of your insignificant death. It would have been,” he said, “messy.”
“What’ve you done?” she repeated.
“I’ve given you a gift beyond measure,” he said. “Surely even the pendulum of a life of your measure knows the worth of another day? Evidently, I’ve given you,” he said, and leaned in to look deep into her pupils, “twelve lives.” He waved his hand dismissively in the air. “It’s not an exact science.”
“I didn’t want this one,” Thea said, “take them back. What will I do with twelve?” She balled her fists and cried.
“Dear, my skills are well beyond your means. And to transfer them, you would have to die,” he said, “messy.” At that, he held the door for them to leave. “Go live a truly magical life,” he said, smirking at his own joke.
The third time Thea woke from death, she demonstrated her gift for the Great Gregor, convincing him to hire her as his assistant. At best, a so-so magician, Gregor loved the devices, the mirrors, the adoration of his fans, and the power inside knowledge afforded him over a scientifically illiterate audience. When he failed, with Thea as his resurrecting assistant, the audience thought him an even greater magician.
Gregor kicked Jack aside to give the press and patrons a closer view of his powers.
Their fame and fortune grew. Each time Thea drowned, was vivisected, or crushed inside a box, experts examined her body and swore her truly dead. When tricks went as planned, the audience was awed, when they failed, the audience’s morbid curiosity grew. Each time, Jack licked Thea’s face, loving his companion back to life. She woke from death with his muzzle on her belly, waiting for her next breath.
Thea bought herself a thick black coat and regular steak dinners for Jack.
In time, Gregor grew more competent, Thea rarely died, and Jack grew old, as dogs often do. The age and lymphoma made Jack slow to move out of the way of Gregor’s impatient anger. The lymphoma made the kicks more painful.
“The veterinarian says he’s dying. You kick him again, and I’ll expose you for the fraud you are,” Thea said.
“I’m the Great Gregor. You’re just the assistant they’re hoping will die.” Gregor waved a dismissive hand. “We’ll get another dog.”
Months passed, and with each day, Jack appeared not long for this world.
Still, Jack stood in the stage wings keeping watch over Thea. The evening of the water chamber trick, Gregor kicked the slow-moving dog out of the way. In his anger, Gregor’s timing was off, and Thea drowned.
The next day, as they waited for her to resurrect, a man in a top hat with a peacock-blue band appeared at the stage door. Gregor ushered him inside, eyeing another potentially wealthy patron. The man walked directly to Thea’s body. Kneeling, he pulled Jack’s wheezing body from her side and tucked it under his arm.
“She paid me a great sum to deliver a gift when she died this time.” He put his fingers on her cold blue lips. “She has one last trick up her sleeve.”
“Ahh, see she’s not gone,” Gregor replied, “I’m the Great Gregor. I’m the magician.”
“Yes,” the sour-faced man replied, “I’m intimately aware of your magic. Seems, as Thea explained to me the last time we met, life is inherently messy.”
The sour-faced man whispered words in a tongue foreign to Gregor. Jack whimpered, and his body went limp. The sour-faced man dropped Jack’s body, wiped his hands thoroughly with his kerchief, and left. Gregor stared at the wide-open stage door, trying to puzzle out what happened.
The first time Jack resurrected, he licked Thea’s cold face one last time and trotted puppy-like out the stage door.
|Chloie Piveral‘s work has appeared in the Flame Tree Press anthology Robots & Artificial Intelligence, Apparition Lit, NewMyths, Common Deer Press’ Short Tails, and more. Described as a writer of whimsical angst, Chloie is a transplant from the American Midwest who now lives near the mountains of Colorado with her family and a dog named Ziggy. She’s an Odyssey Workshop graduate and currently working toward her MFA in the USM Stonecoast program. If you want to read more of her work, visit her website at www.cpiveral.com, or you can chat with her on Twitter here: @C_Piveral.|