Page 31 of The Body Departed

But Eli wasn’t really paying attention. Instead, he was focused on the spot between Jacob and me. Sweat had formed across his brow, and he was absently cracking his neck, rolling his head around on those wide shoulders. I could only imagine that his neck was tense as hell.

“What about the old lady?” he asked.

“Mrs. Randolph?” asked Pauline. “Whom you murdered a few months ago?”

I didn’t know a murderer could look sheepish, but Eli managed to do so now, ducking his head a little. “Um, yeah, her.”

“She’s not here, either. She has passed over and is taking no interest in this.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out, so he closed it again and hunched his shoulders some more.

“From what I understand,” said Pauline, cocking her head and listening to voices even I couldn’t hear, “she has forgiven you and holds no ill will toward you for taking her life.”

He opened his mouth to speak again, and this time he was successful. “I never meant to kill her, you know.”

“She knows.”

He cracked his neck again. “So James and my brother are really here now?”

“Yes,” said Pauline.

“Is there, um, any chance they can give me a sign or something?”

“Your brother doesn’t understand the concept of ‘giving a sign,’ Eli, but James might oblige.”

He nodded. “Fine. Could you, um, ask him for me?”

“He’s right here, listening to you,” she said. “What would you like him to do?”

“I dunno. Maybe move something.”

There was a silver candlestick holder on the altar. I took Eli’s hand, drew energy from him, and promptly pushed over the candlestick. It landed with a thunderous clang, and Eli jumped back.

“Holy sweet Jesus!” He gripped his chest and looked at his forearm, which was now completely covered in gooseflesh—a result, no doubt, of my grabbing his hand. “Is he going to hurt me?”

“Are you going to hurt him?” Pauline asked me.

“Of course not,” I said.

“He says, ‘Of course not.’”

Eli had backed up all the way to the edge of the stage. He looked as if he might bolt at any moment.

“Tell him to come back,” I said to Pauline.

She repeated my request to him.

Eli did so, grudgingly. He said, “Tell James no more, you know, proof. I believe he’s here.”

I sighed. Scaring the hell out of him had been, admittedly, kind of fun.

“So what now?” Eli asked. There was a little more pep to his voice. Being scared half to death has that effect on people.

“Now,” said Pauline, “is when things get interesting.”

51

“First of all,” said Pauline to Eli, “we need to get Jacob up to speed here. He’s very confused. Mostly, he recognizes you as Mrs. Randolph’s killer, but there’s a part of him that thinks he might know you from somewhere else.”

“Why…Why doesn’t he recognize me?” asked Eli, truly hurt.

“It’s the nature of lost souls,” said Pauline. “With no real feedback from, well, anyone, they lose sight of themselves, forget who they are, and their memories subsequently go as well.”

“He doesn’t even remember who he is?” asked Eli, and I could hear the anger and pain in his voice. I was also aware that the anger was probably directed toward me.

“Mostly, he doesn’t,” said Pauline. “Sometimes he has glimpses of who he is and who he was. But every day he forgets more and more, Eli. Every day the condition worsens.”

“You mean, someday he won’t even remember who he is?”

“Exactly.”

“Then we need to help him,” said Eli firmly. “Send him to heaven or something.”

“It’s not going to be that easy, Eli. Your own father planted the seeds of doubt in the afterlife, which is why he is still here.”

Eli didn’t say anything at first. Sweat continued to bead along his forehead, and he seemed to be growing paler by the minute. I wondered if he was ever going to get his color back. Finally, he started nodding.

“Yeah, Dad was an atheist. Hard-core atheist. Mom wasn’t. Dad was against us going to Catholic school from the beginning, but Mom won out. Still, whenever we were alone with him, he would tell us we were wasting his money and that there was no God or heaven or hell. We believed him. Hell, he was our dad—we would have believed anything he said.”

“What do you believe now?” asked Pauline.

“I believe there’s a ghost in here—a ghost who can fucking knock over a candlestick. That’s enough for me.”

Pauline nodded. They were silent.

After a moment, Eli asked, “So there really is a heaven and a hell?”

“There is whatever you want there to be, Eli. Your brother believed in no heaven or hell, so he is stuck here, in disbelief.”

“Then why is James stuck here?”

“Ah,” said Pauline, smiling over at me. “He had the opposite problem.”

“Opposite?”

“He believed too much.”

“I don’t get it,” said Eli.

“He truly believed he was going to hell, Eli, and he was afraid.”

“And why was he afraid of going to hell?” asked the bigger twin. He had inched closer to the altar. Not quite as close as before, but he was growing braver.

“Do you really want to know?” asked Pauline.

“Yes.”

“He regrets killing your brother, Eli. Regrets it more than you will ever know.”

Amazingly, Eli looked right at me. People are more psychic than they know. He looked and said nothing.

“You didn’t have to kill him, Eli. He was killing himself, slowly, surely, much the same way you’re killing yourself now.”

The young man suddenly covered his face and broke down in tears. Pauline never moved, but Jacob did. The little boy was by his brother’s side in an instant, trying unsuccessfully to take his hand.

It was heartbreaking and piteous.

And it was all because of me.

52

“My hand is cold,” said Eli between sobs. He opened and closed his hand slowly. I could see the occasional shiver coursing through him.

“It’s your brother,” said Pauline. “He’s trying to hold your hand. He’s trying to comfort you.”

Eli looked down at his empty hand. “What…What does Jacob look like?”

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