Her golden curls spilled between his fingers as he took her in for one last kiss. As their lips parted for the last time, he puzzled over her. It was his beautiful Anne, and yet, already, it wasn’t anymore. Her body was still warm, but the glow in her green eyes, that glimpse of her beautiful soul that David could see in them, had already left her.
David dragged his fingernails deep, down across his face, desperately hoping the shock of pain would bring answers. How could this happen? Why? He had only been away at his lab for a few hours. Surely, she’d fought or begged for her life, how could someone listen to her pleas for mercy, ignore them, then strangle the life out of her in such a short time? It would truly take a soulless coward to be capable of such a cold act.
Only that morning he’d held her close, whispering into her ear, promises he would never have the chance to keep. She begged him not to go to the lab that day. Anne hated the lab. She said it was cold, utilitarian, soulless. Even more, she hated the “unnatural” work he carried out while there. David wanted to stay with her, and had he, she might still be alive. Instead, he made promises.
David bundled up his bride and laid her on the kitchen table. At sunup, he would ride to North Ridge to share the news with Anne’s sister who lived there, and with any luck, he’d gain the support of her husband and two sons. From there, the four of them would ride into Bravado to demand an investigation and justice for Anne. For now, he could only open the bottle of bourbon he had picked up while in town, and weep over the body of his murdered wife.
The next morning, David did not ride to North Ridge. He did not rally the family of his deceased wife or charge into town for vengeance. His inaction was not cowardice though he assured himself, he simply wasn’t ready to lose Anne. He wasn’t ready to start the process, the funeral, the grieving, the questions. How was he to answer questions when he had so many of his own? But most of all, he wasn’t ready to give the body of the most beautiful soul he’d ever known, over to that oaf of an undertaker. He couldn’t do that, and besides, there was something else too. A thought David knew he shouldn’t have, but one that pestered him more and more as the hours passed; “Can I bring her back?”
He knew it wasn’t the right or natural thing to do. As lovingly as he may have laid her there two evenings ago, there was nothing natural about his decision to place his deceased wife’s body in the refrigerated storage chest in his laboratory. He had begun to let go of the notion of bringing her back, but he still couldn’t yet bare to part with her. “Just one more night with her “he told himself as he sat down to another lonely meal of whiskey and bread. “When the sun rises, I will take her into town, and I will do what needs to be done” he assured himself.
Before David could take his next gulp of supper, a flickering light caught his attention outside. He wasn’t expecting anyone, and he hadn’t heard any approaching horses. As a matter of fact, he didn’t really hear anything at all; not then, and not now. It was as if all of nature had fallen completely silent for whatever accompanied this flickering glow.
David stood and stumbled toward the door, drunk on tonight’s only course. He wrapped his fingers around the shotgun he kept by the door, and slowly opened it just a touch to peer through. “Whadaya want?” he called out to the man in the crimson robe standing, no floating in his yard. “I already told you I ain’t no heathen, and I’m not converting. So you can follow me all you want, but you aren’t going to wear me down like you did Ms. Stephens or any of the other soulless cowards who joined your little cult.”
“Oh we know that Dr. Lester” replied the man “We know better than to believe a man as righteous and courageous as you could ever be intimidated.”
The man’s words pounded inside David’s head. He cursed himself for drinking so much whiskey.
“Then what are you doing on my property? Get out of here and leave me be!” David responded.
“No we know better than to think you could ever be intimidated Dr. Lester, a man as brave as you. Or that you could ever be converted, not a man as righteous and steadfast as you. Not you, a man who for the three days has consumed not but whiskey and bread. Not you, a man who for three days has not so much as left his home to seek justice for his murdered wife. And most of all, not you, a man who for the last two, has kept her corpse locked inside your laboratory’s freezer. You are far too courageous to be intimidated, far too righteous to be persuaded.”
“How in the hell do you know about my wife?” David yelled “Was it you? I’ll kill you, you murderous heathens.” David clutched his shotgun and charged toward the man in the crimson cloak. He would have his justice right then and there. At first his progress was swift, but as he neared his adversary, his legs began to soften, it was as if his weight multiplied with each step. David’s pace slowed and less than halfway to his adversary, he fell to his knees.
“Come now” said the man in the crimson cloak. “I did not come to provoke you.”
“Did you kill my wife” David muttered… the words drooling from his mouth.
“I did not come to make light of your wife’s passing. I come with good news.”
David mustered all the strength he could “DID YOU KILL MY WIFE!”
“OF COURSE WE KILLED YOUR WIFE!”
David summoned all that was left of him, raised the barrel, and pulled the trigger before collapsing to the ground in a heap. The buckshot fell like snowflakes around him. The man in the crimson cloak laughed menacingly.
“hmmm hmmm hmmm do not fear Dr. Lester. As I said, I come with good news. We did not kill your wife without purpose. We killed her because we knew you would not be converted by our usual means. We’ve found manipulation, blackmail, even torture and brainwashing seldom works against a will as strong as yours. We have tried, but even when such efforts are successful, the conversion is only temporary. In the end such candidates for conversion fail and are ultimately discarded. “
“So what, exactly, is the good news?” David muttered.
The man in the cloak smiled and circled above David like a vulture eyeing dying prey.
“Ahh the good news! The good news is that, as you hypothesized, your Anne can be saved! But the burden is yours to bear Dr. Lester. We can invoke souls and conjure spirits by name, but we cannot reanimate bodies. We have watched your many failed experiments with some interest and know that that is precisely the subject of your experimentation. We have only provided you with what we hope will be the proper motivation to finally achieve success. And when you do, Dr. Lester, together we can bring back your beloved Anne!”
David’s ears rang with every word. He had initially thought that it was the whiskey that made the man’s words boom inside of him, but now he recognized that it wasn’t so. David felt no such boom no matter how loudly he yelled or how hard he strained, only the words the man in crimson spoke, reverberated inside his head like a sledgehammer. He could take no more of the conversation, but he had to know more.
“Why do you care? What interest could you possibly have in my experiments? Why would you care if I could bring Anne back?”
A smile, the most horrific smile, crawled across the cloaked man’s face.
“You know why Dr. Lester. We will have our congregation one way or another. Where persuasion does not succeed, manipulation may prevail. When manipulation fails, torture, or as in your case, coercion may not. We have scrubbed minds clean and started them over to fill our church Dr. Lester, but when all that fails…”
“You’ll kill people and use their corpses as hosts for whatever evil spirits you can conjure.”
The man in the crimson cloak turned and glided away. As he left, David’s strength slowly returned. David lifted his head to watch the man in the cloak flicker out when suddenly, the pounding in his head became a stabbing single word that echoed loudly in his mind “Precisely” and David collapsed once more.