Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Bodies were all they talked about in biology class. Luis hated biology class. He hated bodies. He hated the pressure of having a body.
He used to watch the boys with their tight shirts, who were always pressed in the hallways against those messed-up girls with too much eyeliner. He would look at himself, at the way his shirts would cling to him. He would imagine the idea of himself weighing less. Being less.
So he started eating less. And he got really good at it.
It wasn’t difficult. It was interesting, really. A challenge. Don’t eat for three hours. Then five. Then a day. How much longer? You can always go longer. You can always go past the limits you set for yourself.
No one noticed anything about what he was doing in his house. No one noticed anything ever. His stepdad was on dialysis three days a week and his mother was insane. She prayed all the time. About his stepdad, he guessed. Maybe him. Maybe she prayed to keep away all the bills that fluttered through the house like bright black birds. She was crazy. She was always at church. Their house was full of pictures of saints and leftover incense from mass that clung to the clothes and their skin even and never let go.
In Sunday school, they talked about Saint Catherine of Siena. The fasting saint. She only ate the Eucharist and died when she was thirty three.
They called it Anorexia Mirabilis. Holy anorexia. She proved her devotion to God by showing a lack of attention to her physical body. Bodies are temporary. The soul is eternal.
There used to be a lot of fasting saints. Girls starving themselves for Jesus. In the Middle Ages, they would break the teeth of girls trying to fast. They would pour food down their throats. Now, they send you to the hospital and put tubes in your arms.
He looked up Catherine of Siena on wiki. Someone wrote about how if a teenaged girl nowadays starved herself for what she said were religious reasons, we would interpret that as an eating disorder. Meanings aren’t fixed. Definitions aren’t permanent.
Jesus didn’t eat or drink for forty days in the desert. Luis wrote “goal” next to that part in the bible, but then he erased it. The eraser smudged everything and tore the page a little.
He ate Jesus’s body and drank his blood once every week. Some weeks — the best weeks –that was all he ate.
Back in class, Mr. Preston was standing there in front of them in his dreadful discount clothing, still talking about viruses. About the way they can cross over from one species to another. And how sometimes they don’t.
Ebola, for instance, he said. The notorious condition that kills you by causing you to internally bleed to death. This is a virus that can live in humans, is transmittable, and is horrifically lethal. But that awful mortality rate, he explained, is the same thing that makes it difficult to infect humans.
“So you die before you get other people sick?” That was from Ben. He sat in front of Luis. He once got suspended for having aspirin in his bag. Now everybody called him Rick Ross.
“But then what happens if the virus changes? Like, what if it takes people like two weeks to die, or something, instead of a couple of days?”
Somebody in the back of the class said, loud enough for everyone to hear his whisper, “That’s when we fucked, Ricky”
Even Mr. Preston laughed.
In the lunchroom after bio he sat with Jill at the table near the window like always. She asked him if he had seen Tyler that day.
“No. He’s probably sick. There must be something going around. Half of my algebra class was absent.”
Jill looked exhausted. Her dark eyes were nearly lost in the middle of huge black circles. She had band-aids on her hands from a carrot peeling incident she was too emotionally distraught to discuss.
“This sucks. I needed to talk to him. I couldn’t sleep last night.”
She laughed, “I wish. Nah, my mom took me off when I showed up underweight like three doctor visits in a row.”
She paused for a second, awkward and aware. No one ever wants to admit they notice anything. And everyone else wants everybody to go back to pretending everything is fine.
“So why were you up?”
“Tyler sent me a bunch of quasi-unnerving texts, and then he didn’t respond to any message I sent him. And then he sent me a link to a super weird numbers station. And then said he was turning his phone off. My sleep schedule was, understandably, irrevocably shattered. At best.”
You could see the courtyard from their seats. Kids were standing around out there, talking. The wind was blowing leaves around, whipping them into sharp, obsessive circles.
“They’re like these spy things. Cold War stuff. They play coded messages and nobody understands the meaning? You’ve definitively heard of these things, Luis. They just repeat numbers. Occasionally someone speaks. I know you know about them. Tyler was telling me you’re his go to for random creepy internet things.”
Jill and Tyler had just started dating. All conversations with either of them became at some point a conversation about them as a couple. Like all new things, there was an obsession with repeated definitions of its existence. You prove something is real by believing in it with others at the same time.
“Oh yeah. I have heard of that,” he lied. He was having a lot of trouble recently with his memory. His concentration too. He felt faint sometimes. Like the world was pressing against him and squeezing too tight. “So what’s the recording of?”
Outside, the wind was picking up. One kid’s shirt billowed out around him like a trampoline. Everyone was laughing as it inflated and rose up.
“The Hail Mary.”
“Shit, if you think that’s weird, you should come to my house. My mom says the Hail Mary like thirty thousand tines a day.”
“You say it for penance, for assistance, whatever. They’ve always said it. It never changes.”
And then something was flying right at them, quick and strange and horrible. It was coming from the courtyard and it slammed against the window, sounding like a hammer hitting a wall.
He jumped up as Jill screamed. The cafeteria paused, suddenly silent.
Outside the winds howled. The garbage can that had been lifted up and hurled by the wind rattled about the cement, suddenly empty.
“God, that was so weird,” said Jill as they walked to her car. “I thought that garbage can was going to kill us. What an undignified way to die, right?”
“God, I know. Killed by trash.”
“The worst.” Her car beeped as she hit the alarm to find it. Jill always lost her car in parking lots.
She unlocked the doors to her blue Volvo and Luis got in. The leather felt cold. She backed out and they drove out of the parking lot. Skipping was always so weird. The lot was full of cars. You felt so conspicuous. Or at least he did. Jill never acted like she was doing anything wrong. Like she had no guilt.
“You know who died well?” She asked as she drove, not even looking for other traffic. “Jesus.”
“Dramatic doesn’t equal dignified.”
“But it was certainly memorable.”
They pulled out of the parking lot, pausing for just a moment at the stop sign. The clouds chased each other across the high resolution sky, looking for somewhere else to be.
“Hey,”said Luis. “I think we should stop.”
They had been driving for ten minutes. Across the street, there was a Honda that had obviously just wrecked. The windshield was pushed out in that curious, swollen but unbroken manner of car crashes. The hood was bent, wrapped around the tree, like an embrace.
“Crap,” said Jill, looking at it, “you’re probably right.”
They parked and walked across the street. It was still too windy. Branched littered the street.
The car was steaming. “It must have just happened,” said Luis. A noise was coming from inside the car. Something very faint.
“Do you hear that?” mumbled Jill. “Is someone in there?”
They both froze for a moment, horrified. Jill walked forward first and peered in. He waited, five feet away. He saw her stiffen.
“Yeah, nobody’s in here. But…come here.”
He stepped forward. She pointed inside. In the ignition, a key still dangled. The interior had blood smeared on it. But no people. She touched his shoulder, urgently. He looked at her and realized she was pointing at the stereo. The noise was coming from there.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen”
Back in her car, Jill was shaking. Luis sat next to her, drumming on his knees. They hadn’t seen anyone. Nobody in the car. Nobody out of the car. But still…
“Are you all right?”
Jill wiped tears away from her face with the back of her hands. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. That was just- that was just-”
“God, yes. Super weird. Ok. Let’s go.”
She turned the car back on and they pulled away from the wreck.
“That Hail Mary thing? Was that -uh, was it-”
“Same thing Tyler sent me. Yup,” she tightened her grip on the wheel, “same thing.”
He noticed blood on the wheel from her hands. Bright and red and wet like spilled paint.
Outside Tyler’s house, the wind was roaring. The driveway was full of parked cars. Above them, the sky was turning a sickly pale green.
“Is this a good idea?”
She shrugged and knocked.
They let themselves into the unlocked home. The entrance was clogged with shoes and umbrella stands. It was a split level, with stairs leading up to the living room, kitchen and bedrooms and stairs leading down to the basement and family room.
The air felt weird. Luis swore he could hear something, but almost like it was at a different frequency. Like it was a noise humans shouldn’t be able to hear and all of the sudden he could.
Jill walked past him, down the stairs. He went to follow and stopped, shaking her head.
“Go upstairs,” she whispered. She touched him lightly on the shoulder, gently pressing her palm against him. “I’ll see if there’s anything down here.”
She descended. He looked at his shoulder. Blood from her palm covered him.
The stairs creaked with every step and the buzzing in his head grew louder with every movement. It sounded like when you hear a crowd from very far away. The stairs seemed to fade in and out as he ascended them; his vision blurred and bent as if he was looking through a long collapsing tunnel.
At the top of the stairs he stopped. He felt dizzy. He could hear his blood pounding in his body. The kitchen was to his right. He thought he saw someone in there.
He walked into the kitchen. There was no one. Just open drawers. Spoons and forks and knives scattered across the bright white tile floor.
There was the sound again. That buzzing, like a bee had flown in an open window and landed inside his ear and hatched a thousand other bees. And it seemed like all the newborn bees were learning to speak, because he swore it seemed like the buzzing was turning into words.
He covered his ears but it didn’t stop the noise. He closed his eyes and saw colors distort and bloom in the darkness. Images of saints in stained glass melted and reshaped in a trembling rush. A clean, clear voice began rising out of the miasma. Repeating a phrase over and over again.
He couldn’t understand what it was saying. But he heard it coming from the end of the hallway, where the master bedroom was. He walked to the end of the hall.
The noises got louder. A chorus of voices repeating, praying. It was the Hail Mary, again and again and again.
How long had religion existed? How long has our idea of God been stable? What would happen if God changed? What would it do to us?
He opened the door to the master bedroom. There, against the salmon colored wall, was Tyler. The nails had been pounded into his wide open palms. On his head, the thorns cut into his pale white skin. His body was scarlet where it wasn’t sickly pale blue. A cut was open in his side. Against the wall, written in scarlet was “INRI.”
Next to him, it must have been his mom and dad. Luis had never meet Tyler’s dad. He had a beard. He was nailed to the wife, like his wife was, with Tyler in between. They had all been crucified.
For a moment he stood, staring at the bodies. That’s all they were. Bodies. Temporary things that housed an eternal life. And then — behind him. He could feel someone standing behind him. He turned.
There was Jill. She was reciting the prayer. She was holding something in her hand. It dangled from soaked crimson fingers, peach colored with a raw red side. There were holes in the thing she was holding.
It was her face. She had peeled off her face.
She steeped closer to him, staggering. What used to be her face shone like meat. Her eyes were wide and dark and what was flashing in them was not Jill. Something had gotten into her body and changed it. A different transmission was operating her. It was the same thing buzzing in Luis’ head.
“Hail Mary,” she said, moving slowly, deliberately. Other voices echoed hers. “full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
He stepped back, away from her terrible image. He felt something cold and wet on him. He looked and found he had bumped into Tyler’s body. It felt like ice that used to breath. Jill walked forward, holding out her skin to him. Her old blood on his shirt called to her, quivered for her. He realized their were others in the room. These were the things saying the prayer. He couldn’t see them, but he felt them, he heard them, he sensed their weight against him. As Jill’s wet and slippery fingers grabbed his face, his neck, his lips, he almost saw them. But not yet. Not yet.
“Amen amen amen amen am-”
The cafeteria the next day was even more sparse. Luis was the only person at the big circle table near the windows. Ben from bio class walked over.
“Hey man,” he said, looking around the table.
“Um, yo, doesn’t Jill usually sit here? She was supposed to give me notes for English?”
“She’s not here. I think she’s sick. Are you in Morros’ class?”
“I’m in his second period. I can send you a copy.”
“For real? That’d be awesome.”
“No problem. Yo, do you want me to send you a link too? I found this weird numbers station online.”
“What’s a numbers staton?”
“It’s this things. They’ve been around forever. Nobody knows why. The broadcast messages. Instructions.” Luis eyes were shining, like he had a fever. He looked translucent and inflamed. “This one is different though. You have to listen. Promise you’ll listen. It’s beautiful.”
Credit To – Kevin Sharp