Excerpt from “The Omitted Thirteenth”



The dead man had lain in the wreckage of his host body for hours after his quarry had fled, wondering what in the hell he was supposed to do now. He already knew he could not escape this flesh, not until the woman saw fit to release him, and he could have screamed in frustration if his windpipe had not been crushed along with the rest of him. He stared at the darkened ceiling through his spirit eyes, pleading silently to the woman who had trapped him here, the woman who was controlling his fate from afar. Let me out, he said. I’ll continue to do your bidding, but let me find another body to do it in.

After an eternity of the begging to her (and where had she gone, last night, while he was being mangled by that stupid girl? She hadn’t even come in to help), he gave up and considered his situation. Perhaps his only option was to try and reintegrate his scattered parts, at least enough so that he could move around. He strained to the limits of his will, tried to strain beyond them, and for a second he felt a glimmer of hope as he thought the molecules of the shattered corpse were pulling themselves back together. And he had done it before, when Faustine was looking down at him, hadn’t he? All he had to do was try, imagine himself whole with every fiber of his being.

Despite much struggle, he was unable to pull off any more than a few twitches of bone, a slight knitting of flayed skin. Sighing, he settled back into his misery. What would become of him now? Would he just lie here forever in this battered carcass, unable to escape? The proposition seemed more horrible than anything he could imagine. And the girl would never be back now, he was almost certain of that. Nick had taken her away and they had failed in their vague mission. Even in the unlikely event that the girl did return, what could he do to her in this pitiful state?

Lost in his thoughts, he at first failed to notice a peculiar lightness of feeling overtaking him, a sensation of a weight being lifted. By the time he realized what was happening, his incorporeal self was hovering somewhere near the ceiling, gazing down on the ruin his borrowed body had become. Had he been solid instead of spirit, he would have whooped with joy. He was out, he was free! He zoomed around the room a few times, testing his new liberty, reveling in the feel of his individual atoms stretching and contracting, invisibly, in the stinking room. How he loved the feeling of being out of a body; although his kind could not remain as pure spirit for long — they were as vulnerable as hermit crabs outside of their shells — he had always adored the sensation of being unencumbered by the clumsy limitations of human flesh. He felt at one with the universe.

Then he stopped to think. How could he be out? Surely he hadn’t done it himself; even after all his efforts, he wasn’t stupid enough to think he could have escaped against the will of the more powerful woman, his lord and master. He swished around the room again. Maybe his prayers had been heard, and the woman was allowing him the freedom to find another body, one that would be more suitable. He smiled with his non-existent lips. And if he chose a body of his own, perhaps the rotting and deterioration that had plagued his old skin would not be a factor. That was a definite plus. Besides that, Faustine would be unable to recognize him when she saw him again. Or her, he thought, overcome by the deliciousness of the idea. I could always inhabit a woman.

Excited by the prospect of a new flesh, he took a last glimpse at the body he’d vacated. When he’d gone and fetched a new skin, he thought, he should come and clean all that up. Let Nick and Faustine wonder what had happened to him, where he had gone. Let them think he’d still be shambling around in that broken-down housing. Let it be the rotting zombie that they were looking for. At the moment, he’d find the woman, then he’d find a new body, a nice one this time.

This decided, the dead man, now spirit and nothing more, dissipated his atoms sufficiently to pass through the door and out into the night.