Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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There’s No Need to Fear the Darkness

“So, do you have kids?” the detective asked, interrupting Brenda’s reading to slide a cup of coffee across the table to her. While the coffee was welcome, she wasn’t sure yet it was worth the interruption. She put her index finger flat against the last word she’d processed and looked up, blinking against the antiseptic light.

“What was that?”

She honestly hadn’t even noticed that he’d left the room on his coffee run, or when exactly he’d returned. He stood with his back to the light to seem mysterious, he kept his feet instead of sitting because he wanted to appear tall and powerful as opposed to ingratiating or friendly. Yet the questions were friendly, or designed to seem so. As if he couldn’t decide whether he should play good cop or bad cop, when in reality he didn’t need to do either.

He was very, very new at this job.

“Do you have kids?” He fiddled with the lid of his own paper coffee cup.

“I’m not sure how that’s relevant, Detective—?” she took a sip of the coffee; it definitely wasn’t worth the interruption.

“Hernandez.” Even if she couldn’t read the emotion all over his face, his voice was saturated with it. Pure annoyance; he had probably told her his name five times at least in the midst of all his incessant small talk, and he was also still sulking because she wasn’t the great Cade Novak. As if Cade would have ever dragged his camera crew out here to the ass-end of nowhere for some little case that couldn’t even drum up much local media enthusiasm.

Yes, he was very new at this.

“I’m just trying to make conversation,” the detective sulked, when she failed to respond with the pleasantries he thought he deserved.

Brenda flipped the file closed; it was clear she wasn’t getting back to it any time soon. Anyway, she had most of what she needed, and with luck the Blank would fill in the rest.

“No, I do not have any children.” The socially expected response, the do you?, danced just out of reach. No need to ask. He was the kind of man who needed constant validation, and she wasn’t going to reward that with social niceties.

“It’s a kid, you know. The—the, uh, Blank.”

“I’m aware of that, yes.”

“Well, that’s why I brought it up.” He prickled with defensiveness. “It bothers some people. Kids can be rough.”

“I’ve worked with juvenile Blanks before. Is the coroner is ready for us? By all means, let’s be on our way.”

“But you haven’t finished the file.”

That was his own fault, of course, but Brenda simply shrugged. “I’d rather not drag this out further than necessary. There are a lot of cases on my list to get through.”

Actually, there weren’t. For the first time in weeks, she didn’t have another job on the line. But people were always dying, and for all she knew there would be something waiting for her before this one was done.

The detective scowled, not quite buying her little lie. “Are all Lazes so…” he didn’t fill in the blank, allowing her to supplement with all sorts of interesting adjectives.

“Difficult?”

“Sure. Difficult.”

Brenda scooped up the beige file folder and tossed the remains of the mediocre coffee into a nearby trash can.

“There’re only the three of us, so the sample size is rather limited, I’m afraid. Also, please don’t call me a Laz. I’ve never understood that term, and I don’t like it.”

“Laz? It’s short for Lazarus, the—”

Generally Brenda slouched through life, but the detective was too short for this effort to make much difference, so she stretched to her full height and pushed past him into the hallway.

“I know who Lazarus was, Detective. But, in case it has escaped you thus far, Lazarus was the dead man. The one who brought him back to life was God.”

There. Cade and Aage were always saying that if she didn’t want to be dismissed so easily, she had to be a little shocking. Well, that was shocking.

It was also petty, and rather mean-spirited. But she’d had a long, lonely month, and there was a dead kid waiting on a table to meet her, and the detective was right about one thing. Kids were rough. She couldn’t dredge up fake smiles or false enthusiasm, so petty and mean-spirited would have to do.

***

Cade was the one who came up with the term Laz, of course, in those first heady days after they all came crashing together with such unanticipated force. Brenda and Aage would have been content to coast under the radar forever, ignoring their strange new abilities, but Cade wanted more out of life. Even after less than seventy two hours, they all knew these things about each other with an instinct that terrified and exhilarated in equal measure.

“What we need is a superhero team name,” Cade had said, dreamily, staring up at Aage’s watermarked motel-room ceiling as if The Creation of Adam was painted there.

Aage clambered over him, searching for his Winstons with one hand and his lighter with the other. “Christ’s sake, we’re not superheroes.”

“No? Got another word for it? Those things will kill you, you know.”

A shrug. “Die young, stay pretty.”

He, of course, was their elder, already graying at the temples, and the smoking did no favors for his skin. Still, already he had hooked his claws into Brenda’s heart. Love. Love. What kind of insanity was that?

“Brenda, darling, please help me convince Mr. Lund that we’d rather have him old and ugly than gorgeous in the grave, and that those cigarettes make him stink abominably, and that we should have a superhero name. Oh, and stretchy outfits.”

Brenda plucked the cigarette from between Aage’s slim fingers for an illicit drag before smashing it beyond redemption in the bedside ashtray.

“I draw the line at stretchy outfits. He’s right. We’re not superheroes.”

“We can bring people back to life. That sounds like a genuine superpower to me.”

“For about thirty five seconds,” Aage argued. “Gibbering and disoriented.”

“So we’ll get better at it. We’ll practice.”

“On who, exactly?”

“Everyone dies, Aage. Until now.” Cade’s eyes sparkled. “When people find out about us, they’ll be lined up for miles to get our help.”

“When people find out about us they’ll say we’re possessed by demons, or try to vivisect us for the sake of science. It’s not a useful service. It’s a party trick. A frightening party trick.”

“So we get out ahead of it, spin it. Name ourselves, brand ourselves. How about the Reanimators?”

“That,” Aage flopped back to the mattress with a dramatic thud, “is terrible.”

Cade scrunched up his nose, which made Brenda laugh and want to kiss him. So she did.

Cade hardly noticed. “Maybe there’s a term about zombies we can use. You know, voodoo.”

Aage didn’t like that idea, either. “Problematic. Cultural appropriation. Also, zombies frighten people. They’re already going to be terrified of us.”

“Will not.”

“Will so.”

“You are so contrarian. Oh, I’ve got it. Aage, Brenda, Cade…we can be the ABCs!”

“What are we, a kid’s variety cartoon? Also, darling, that would put you last in line, and we all know that’s unsustainable in the long term.”

Aage was right about that, too.

But Cade was on a roll now, and he just barreled right through the criticism. “Something about the underworld. Death. Hades. Persephone? Oh, I know. Lazarus!”

“Lazarus was brought back, he wasn’t the bringer.”

“I know, I know. Look, the two of you can lecture me on the semantic difference between Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster—”

“Creature!” Brenda and Aage’s protest was immediate, and in unison.

“Fine, creature, later. It’s catchy. We make up a hashtag, do some visible miracle working, crash boom bang: superheroes.”

“I don’t understand you,” Aage groused. “Isn’t this miracle enough?”

By this he meant them, the improbability and the exhilaration of all that they had been in only three days, how much more they could be.

But nothing was ever enough for Cade. That was how he’d set off such sparks in Brenda and Aage in the first place.

Within twenty minutes he had a clunky hashtag that he was trying his damndest to get trending. He started circulating rumors, some spotted with truth, others outright fantasy, about people who’d died sudden deaths leaving messages beyond the grave. Within two days, a prominent content aggregator was posting listicles like “Ten Famous Corpses Who MUST Be Reanimated by the Lazarus.” A few days after that, suicidal teens on a message board started trading tips on how to make sure that the Laz—even at this point, everyone still thought the three of them were one figure—chose them for reanimation, or didn’t. That’s when Brenda really started to worry. She remembered being a suicidal teen on message boards, couldn’t stomach having any part in inspiring such behavior. But spin it, Cade said, and if it didn’t bother him then she felt like wasn’t allowed to let it bother her. So they spun and they spun and they spun, trying to work out a course while the race was already in progress.

A month later, Cade Novak brought the President of the United States back to life for three minutes and fourteen seconds after an undetected brain aneurysm felled her during an economy speech in Quincy. The incident was caught from a dozen angles, streamed live across the world. She stumbled through the next few lines of her speech, and then she said “Why is everyone so quiet?,” and then she started to sing a gospel hymn, halting but clear. Then she whispered something to Cade, and then she died for the second time.

And nothing was ever the same.

***

The coroner of this county was a soft-chinned Black woman who introduced herself as Kate Allen. Her space was cramped and cluttered; shoved out of sight so that the living didn’t have to think about the dead more than was strictly necessary. Brenda appreciated her brisk efficiency, her lack of small talk. The Blank’s small body was already laid out beneath a sheet on the examination table. “Shall we?” Allen said after the introductions were past, gesturing to the body. Hernandez nodded affirmation.

“Wait,” Brenda said, holding up a hand to stay them. “First, I need to be clear that you both understand what is going to happen here.”

“I sat in on a lecture by Mr. Lund in Portland last spring,” Allen said.

There would have been a couple hundred people in that lecture hall, but at least she had seen it in real time. Brenda gave a slight nod, and turned.

“Detective Hernandez?”

“I’ve read the book. And of course I watched all the training tapes when you were raised as a possible assistant for this case.”

The tapes. Hah. Like the training tapes looked any different to him than the latest summer superhero movie. Cheaper, if anything.

Brenda straightened her spine, folding her hands behind her back.

“Alright, here’s how it goes. I will resuscitate the Blank. I will ask the questions that I’ve deemed appropriate from the list provided by you, Detective. But I will not lead the subject in any way. I will not coach them into an answer you want or are expecting to hear. Sometimes they are coherent. Sometimes they are not. I will do the best I can to inspire coherence. You will not speak.”

Detective Hernandez was not at all pleased with that. “I—”

“Will not speak.”

Allen flashed Hernandez a look, and his aggression subsided into a nod. Brenda affected not to notice either, the aggression or the submission.

“Given the Blank’s age at time of death, and the trauma involved, I anticipate about forty five seconds. I will try to push that based on the Blank’s level of coherence and cooperation, but when it’s done, it’s done. I won’t drag the poor thing back twice.” She couldn’t, actually, but no one needed to know that part. “Whether it solves your case or not, what they give is what you get. Clear?”

“As crystal,” Hernandez said between his teeth. Then, belatedly, “Ma’am.” As if that pause would bother her, somehow.

“Good. Now, you’ve taken all the trace you need from the body?”

“We have your fingerprints and DNA on file,” Allen said, her turn to be less-than-pleased. No one liked that Lazes refused to wear gloves.

“There’s no telling what my touch could disturb or destroy. Are you done with trace on this body, or do I need to come back tomorrow?”

“We’re done.”

“Fine. You may proceed.”

Allen folded down the sheet, and Brenda took in her first glimpse of Milo Hunter Simonson, seven and a half, deceased for sixty seven hours, the best candidate for resuscitation from a multiple homicide with sparse physical evidence and few solid leads.

Best candidate because he was the only victim who’s skull was still intact.

His skin would once have been called caramel or some similarly ridiculously insensitive food term, but now it resembled nothing more than wet, dense sand. Corkscrew curls, longer than Brenda was used to seeing on little boys, crowned his tiny head. His thin, naked clavicle was studded with bruises like dull blue jewels and she could see the ghost of fingers encircling his throat.

For just one second, Brenda closed her eyes.

After she opened them again, she slid her right hand beneath the Blank’s fragile neck and touched the bare skin at the base of his hairline.

He took a deep, gasping breath.

“Mommy? Mommy!”

Aage had been the one to note that pre-adolescent kids tended to regress when they were dead. This Blank sounded like he was about four.

Brenda softened her voice for the lie. “Your mommy’s in the next room, getting you some apple juice.”

A wheezing, nasal whine. “I want lemonade.”

“She’s getting you lemonade.”

“She is?”

“She is. Honey, can you tell me your name, please?”

His little face screwed up tight. His dull irises had once been brown.

“Milo Hunter.”

“What’s your favorite toy, Milo?”

In the corner of Brenda’s eye, Hernandez looked aghast at the seemingly pointless question. He even tapped his watch in a comic pantomime. But at least he was keeping quiet.

The boy laughed, suddenly delighted by some flash of memory or outside stimulus. “Ginny Bear!”

“Yeah? I’ll have your mommy get you Ginny Bear.”

His lip contorted in a pout. “Ginny Bear has a hole in her eye.”

Someone had come into his house, and they had done unspeakable things to this child and his family, and they had even shot his fucking teddy bear.

Brenda hated her job.

She kept her voice soft, lightly curious. “Who put the hole there, Milo?”

“Uncle. The dark tastes like pennies.”

Milo did not have any biological uncles. His father had a list of known associates, many of them petty criminals, who might have fit the bill, though. If that was how the child was able to express the last person he saw, Brenda would have to run with it.

“What did Uncle say when he put the hole in Ginny Bear’s eye?”

“Bad words. And nothing. I’m thirsty.”

“I know, honey, I know.” With her free hand, Brenda stroked those soft curls, using a hopefully familiar touch sensation to keep him anchored and calm.

“Are you a daddy or are you a mommy?” he asked. Oh yeah, he had definitely regressed. His world was a small binary, and he had to fit Brenda into it.

“I’m a girl, like your mommy.”

“Mommy has a hole in her hand. It’s red and she yelled.”

“Do you know how she got the hole in her hand?”

“A bang bang gun. Luca likes playing spaceman but Mommy won’t let him pretend guns cause they are bad.”

Luca was his nine-year-old brother, in one of the cold storage freezers stacked on the far wall. The Blank’s eyes rolled back and forth in his head. Brenda tried to stabilize her grip on him, her palm itching with sweat.

“Did you see Mommy get the hole or just hear her yell?”

“I’m thirsty. Bug told me to shut up, little bitch. The dark smells thick.”

“Did you see anyone before you closed your eyes?”

“Bug, and Teo close up. I want lemonade. My throat hurts. Luca’s hiding under the bed but I didn’t tell so you have to promise not to.”

“Did you hear Bug or Teo say anything to your daddy or your mommy?”

“Bang bang. Daddy said a big bad word with a f. Can you hear the dark inside your ears?”

Brenda’s fingers had begun to go numb. She twitched them against the Blank’s neck and he giggled. “Spiders tickle.”

Not much time left.

“Milo, what did you see before you closed your eyes?”

“Red holes. Daddy was sleeping on his stomach. Bug looked mean. He—pulled…”

The connection sizzled and snapped. Brenda lowered the Blank’s head back to the table, flexing her fingers to get the feeling back. Kate Allen had tears in the corners of her eyes, and Detective Hernandez looked ashen. Allen resettled the sheet over the body.

“I would assume that Bug and Teo are Miguel and Mateo Ortega,” Brenda said, to get them back on track. “I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that they were the last people he saw, but I would certainly recommend you start there.”

Hernandez swallowed hard. “What…what was all that about the dark?”

“Irrelevant. I thought you watched the tapes, Detective. They always talk about the dark, and those are statements we can categorically set aside.”

“He was thirsty,” Allen said, soft as a sigh.

“Damage to the throat. I couldn’t say why he was strangled while the others were shot. You’d have to consult a behavioral analyst about that, or ask one of the offenders themselves. I sincerely hope this gives you what you need, Detective.”

“I…yes…that is…I think we can work with it. Thank you.”

“I’m glad to be of assistance. Remember, the Blank’s testimony cannot be used in any legal action, but if you do get to that stage I will be able to testify to what I heard today.” Criminal lawyers universally hated the Lazes, of course, because the precedents were still being argued, but as long as they allowed her to take the stand she would do it. That, she constantly argued with Cade, was the real superpower. Not the resuscitative spark, but what they did with it once the restless dead were lost again to the dark.

Hernandez looked at her, and then his eyes slid away. He was afraid of her. They always were, afterwards.

Brenda’s stomach felt like curdled milk. She asked for the washroom, and went to scrub all trace of the child from her skin.

***

As soon as she was back in her hotel room Brenda kicked off her shoes and curled like a pill bug in the center of the absurdly plush mattress and wept.

Give him credit, it was Cade who called her first. Well, Aage had more trouble figuring out time zones, and he might not even know where she was. Come to think of it, even she wasn’t sure where she was. Alabama? Georgia?

Somewhere in the South, anyway.

“I never, never, never want a kid,” Brenda wailed at Cade, instead of saying hello.

Aage was the one who had been bringing up the idea of surrogacy or adoption lately; casually and cautiously, as if it didn’t really concern him, though they all knew that for a lie. Cade was indifferent, Brenda was opposed. But Cade knew they weren’t really talking about their own potential kids right now, they were really talking about the Blank, about Milo Hunter Simonson, seven and half and dead. He talked her down, half-heard platitudes and soothing sounds filtered through the phone speaker, though what she really needed was someone to touch her.

She could go out and find someone. Neither Cade nor Aage would much mind. But it didn’t seem like a good idea. Not in the damn South.

“He said the dark tasted like pennies. Blood, Cade. You know that’s what it means. His darkness tastes like blood.”

“Shh. Shh. Look, take a few days, come out to California. I’ll get Lund down here somehow.”

“I don’t want California. I want home.”

“This is home.”

Your home.”

“Damn it, Brenda, you want to have this fight again now?”

“I want people to stop murdering children. I want to live in a place without cameras following me around every corner. That’s what I want.”

He was doing his stupid docudrama, or whatever he was calling it these days because reality TV sounded too tawdry. This was probably going to end up the plotline of one of the episodes. She didn’t want to fight, didn’t want to give him the ammunition, so she just hung up, and he let her and didn’t try back.

When Aage finally called, a long time later, she just let the phone buzz against her heart, didn’t even make an attempt to answer. He had to know how tired she was. She could feel his worry, but she couldn’t rise to meet it.

Fortunately, there was an overabundance of light in the hotel room. Two bedside lamps, two standing lamps in the opposite corners, the buzzing florescence of the bathroom light, track lighting above the bed. With all of them on, eventually she managed to fall asleep.

***

The recently dead are preoccupied with many different things. The last song they heard on the radio. Complaints about the weather. Odd aches and pains that they can’t seem to pin down. The names of their loved ones. The names of their enemies.

But all of them, all of them, in their brief second chance at life, speak of the dark.

That was almost the first thing Cade, Aage, and Brenda figured out, when they finally had a chance to compare notes.

The very first thing they’d figured out was the improbable timeline. How at almost the same exact moment in three different cities thousands of miles apart, they had all unexpectedly discovered that they could wake the dead.

Aage learned at the side of his grandmother’s hospice bed. She’d been unresponsive for hours, it was only a matter of time, but when he held her hand he felt a tug, and then his grandmother sat up, shouting something about Uncle Jokum and spoons. Startled, he’d tried to let go, but she sunk her nails into his skin with a strength she hadn’t possessed in years. When he finally broke the contact, she collapsed with a deflating sigh. Only later did he learn that she’d been dead for some minutes before he unthinkingly reached out for her hand.

Aage buried his grandmother, but something was still tugging, and so he travelled south and west.

Cade learned when he came home from a house-painting job itching for a shower and instead found his boyfriend twisted up beside an empty bottle of pills. No note, no explanation. Cade never talked about it in any depth, but Brenda and Aage know how it went all the same. Fumbling for the phone, a moan that can’t quite yet figure out how to turn into a scream, cradling the boy’s too-stiff body, and then the spark.

“Babe, the pancakes burned,” the boy said, his eyelashes fluttering.

Cade gawped, incredulous. He’d been wrong; there was still time.

Then, “The dark tastes like smoke. Sing air mattress. Owls dance chilly shallot. Sorry sorry sorry sorry love love love.”

And Cade buried his boy, but something was still tugging, and so he travelled east.

Brenda only lost her dog.

But, no. Only was not at all the right word, it was too diminishing, and she had to get better at accepting the validity of her emotions. Because Dandelion was more important to her at that point in her life than any human being had been for years. And when she saw him curled up at the end of her bed and known he wasn’t breathing something had shattered.

Then she reached out to stroke his head one last time, and the something tugged, and her dead dog barked and shuddered.

Brenda buried Dandelion in her backyard even though it was against the city codes and then she rented out her house and then she travelled north.

A year and a day. That was what made it magic instead of science, wasn’t it? A year and a day alone in the wilderness, and then a brand new life.

For a year they each wandered, on trains and buses and airplanes. They ate in shitty chain restaurants and quiet backroad diners. They took pictures on their phones but did not share them with anyone. They drained their savings accounts and slept with strangers and got tattooed and snuck into movie theaters and got high with teenagers and stared at the threads coming from their fingertips which no one else seemed to see and they pretended that they were still young and they kept following the tug because there was nothing else worth doing anymore.

And then the day. In an art museum in a city none of them had ever seen before, they walked down three separate corridors, came together from three directions. And they weren’t fixed, they weren’t healed, but they knew each other, instinctively. Without a word, they knew. And it should have been enough.

***

The morning after Milo, Brenda got up early. She took her pills, spent extra time on her make-up and hair, pretended to read the free newspaper while she attempted to eat the hotel breakfast downstairs. The eggs tasted like old rubber.

There was a kid, maybe two or three years old, staring at her from a table across the room.

Little kids stared. They didn’t have ulterior motives for doing so, they were just soaking up stimuli. And that was okay. Brenda flipped the page.

Milo’s case wasn’t mentioned in the paper. The initial details of the crime would have been reported on a few days before, and Detective Hernandez wouldn’t release anything about the information Brenda had acquired unless they needed public assistance in finding the new suspects. She would have thought, with kids involved, the case would be a local sensation. But apparently Milo and Luca Simonson weren’t the type of kids this town cared about.

Instead, Brenda read about a new dog park’s grand opening, the local high school football team facing off against their archrivals, imminent rain.

She thought about California.

Whenever they were in California, Cade was the star and Brenda was the freak show. Somehow, Aage always managed to bypass the whole circus altogether. She kind of hated him for that, but she couldn’t say she blamed him.

But it had been a long month. With Aage on his hospital tour and Cade filming the docudrama that kept their bills paid (they couldn’t charge for resuscitation; that would be vile), Brenda had been the one crossing the continent to do the daily dirty work, visiting police department after police department, helping them to solve their never-ending lists of crime. There was little enough she could do. Bodies never sparked after four days—no cold cases would be getting solved by her touch. Often the dead were recalcitrant, reluctant to speak, or just downright unintelligible. No matter how many Blanks she woke, it would never be enough, she could never do enough, and after a month straight of hotel food and airport security lines, she was overwhelmed by the emptiness of it all.

Maybe even tired enough for California.

She’d collect Aage first, if he would cancel an appearance or two, and they could try to surprise Cade. As long as nothing came up before they got to him. No high profile, suspect-less murders or sudden deaths of wealthy celebrities without wills. A few quiet days, that was all she needed. Please, universe, a few quiet days.

She went back to her room to pack up and book the necessary tickets. But there was something else to do first, something she’d avoided the day before when the spark that woke Milo had left her too vulnerable and raw.

She kept a composition notebook in the inner pocket of her suitcase. She wouldn’t keep this information digitally; it was too easy to be hacked, and everything they did was already scrutinized by the internet down to the smallest detail. This was a record just for the three of them, though Cade didn’t often care to look and even Aage, despite his obsession with datasets and analyzing and improving their craft, thought Brenda’s preoccupation was perverse.

Inside the notebook in her precise handwriting there were one thousand eight hundred and seventy four names.

Sofie Lund ; the dark sounds like clacking spoons.

Nathaniel Coleman ; the dark tastes like smoke.

And on and on and on and on.

Beside number one thousand eight hundred and seventy five, Brenda wrote Milo Hunter Simonson ; the dark tastes like pennies, the dark smells thick, audial {?}.

It was rare for a Blank to communicate the dark in two ways. The dark felt yellow, or it sounded like steam, or it tasted muddy, or it smelled hot. Only ten or a dozen Blanks had made multiple observations, all of those in the last three months. Brenda wondered if that meant that they were getting better at what they did—holding the connections longer, helping the Blanks communicate more clearly—or if it meant that the dark was getting stronger. If they’d inadvertently opened a door that could be accessed from both sides.

No one they’d awoken had yet spoken of anything resembling heaven or hell. No pearly gates or lakes of fire. Only the dark, unrelenting and infinitely variable.

Brenda put away the notebook, and rubbed at her tired eyes until afterimages bloomed against her eyelids.

There was so much to do. People died every minute of every day, a never-ending tide. But there had to be meaning behind what they had become. The dark had to be something classifiable, understandable. There had to be an answer that Brenda was capable of finding.

But in the meantime: packing, plane tickets. Aage, then California and Cade, some time to breathe freely with the people she loved. She did not need to think of the dark as an intelligent, hostile thing. She did not need to wonder what her own darkness would contain. She would find that out some other day.

A bit about the author:

Heather Morris is a cyborg librarian living in North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. You can find her on Twitter @NotThatHeatherM Visit author page