Approximately Alive  

 by Jo Harvey

The blood dripped from the handle of the hunting knife, seemingly in slow motion. Steady, hypnotic. The perfect counterpoint to my harsh breathing. Byron met my horrified gaze with a perplexed look, not yet comprehending he’d been stabbed. Again.

“I swear to god, Byron,” I almost screeched, my brain finally kickstarting as I lunged into the tent for the first aid kit, “you need to stay here, in camp! I don’t care what you smell, you cannot wander off!” I took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, then exhaled. I was not calmed.

Not, I reflected as I nabbed the kit and exited the tent, that I’d been calm in a long time. I hadn’t been calm when Byron, the baby brother I’d promised to watch out for, died last year leaving me without family and turning me into an oath-breaker to boot. I hadn’t been calm at his funeral. Nor as I’d packed up his belongings from the university my once brilliant brother had won a scholarship to. I hadn’t been calm when forced to sell our childhood home to cover expenses. No calm had been found at the bottom of any bottles, either. Although that particular problem had been the catalyst for Byron’s return to the almost living, so I let it slide.

Snapping the disposable gloves on—I’d been warned not to get his blood on me—I had to brace myself for extracting the knife from my brother’s guts. “Okay, steady, breathe slowly.” Psyching myself up for this hadn’t gotten any easier with time and practice. “Any second now. We’re gonna get this, don’t you worry B. Here we go.” With a squelching sound the knife came free and I almost vomited. Byron blinked. Twice. I swallowed hard, did some blinking of my own, and with an alarmingly growing proficiency taped some folded gauze over the wound. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be attending to stab wounds, plural, yet here I was. A regular Dr. Blade Extractor. Thankfully I didn’t also have to be Dr. Stitch Him Up; his not-dead healing took care of that as long as the blood flow was staunched. And, proving there is indeed a first time for everything, I’d even held back the puke.

“Change your shirt, B,” I ordered as I tossed the medical debris on the campfire we had burning. I stared at the knife, the ghoulish blood congealing rapidly, before it, too, followed suit into the flames. Upset and done in, my body gave out and I folded to the ground. B’s shirt had to be fed to the snapping, greedy flames before we could bank it and go, so I could sit a moment. Sit and reflect on the utter myth life had become. I felt called to narrate the intricacies of the absurdness. Like a contestant on a game show of doom.    

“Hi,” I sat straighter and addressed the fire, “I’m Allegra Cassidy and I drunkenly, stupidly, brought my brother’s corpse back to life. Now I hide him, care for him, and stay at least a half step ahead of the occult Hunters self-tasked with killing anything they dub ‘unholy’ while we search for the Sketchy Chick that helped me resurrect him. I also swore off all booze after that, lemme tell you. Nothing like thinking you’d drunk-dreamed some freaky shit only to awaken to the animated corpse of family. On that note, I also stopped sleeping in cemeteries. In my free time, I try super hard to never raise the dead again while grappling with the fact it can be done at all. Thanks for having me!”

Byron shuffled out of the tent, sent me a quizzical glance, and tossed his bloody shirt on the fire. “Soorrrryyy,” he said as he sat beside me.

“I know you are, B. We gotta move again, though. If the Hunters find us here, we’re both toast.” We’d developed a routine of sorts. I’d find us hidden spots to camp, we’d have a few quiet days as I searched nearby cemeteries for Sketchy Chick, then B would get bored. He’d wander off and either scare a rando or meet a Hunter, then we’d have to move on. We’re fast running out of time to finalize B’s reanimation, so these disturbances seriously aren’t a help. I can’t recall the ever so important last steps as I’d been drunk off my ass, wallowing in my lonely misery and abject failure as a sister whilst draped over my brother’s headstone, when Sketchy told me. I just know if I fail, B will be stuck as this ghoul-like creature with the urge to eat people.

Sketchy must have been at that cemetery for a reason, so even though it’s a lame plan, I keep searching for her at every graveyard we can find. She is, frankly, our only hope. It’s not like I can drag B to an emergency room and be all ‘Hey, he’s approximately alive, help me reanimate him?’. I also worry the Hunters will send better equipped, more knowledgeable dudes after us. Dudes that will be able to catch Byron. Sketchy warned me they had a sixth sense for the preternatural. I hadn’t remembered in time to avoid our first run-in with them, but I’m more careful now. B didn’t really get it when I tried explaining it. And, I tell myself, at least eating Hunters keeps him from eating innocent people.

Watching B pick Hunter from his teeth and flick the bits into the fire was totally disgusting and reinforced the need to get moving and find Sketchy before this abnormal became his normal. We’ve been running and hiding for months; we’re so due a break soon. And when we find Sketchy, she’ll help us, she must. The alternative is just too terrible to entertain.  

“Come on, B,” I patted his shoulder as he followed suit and rose with me. “We have an elusive necromancer to unearth.”

The End

AUTHOR BIO: The terrifying not-really-for-actual-children tales and poems the preceding two generations peppered Jo’s childhood with really stuck with her and provided inspiration to tell her own yarns. She would like to thank them, (you know who you are) and possibly creep a new generation out. Just a little.