REVENEZ by Saundra Mitchell
1. May 1, 2010
Alex Mallory's parents used to flip houses.
"For fun and profit," his dad would crow, while they packed another U-Haul truck, one of a string of hundreds. Theoretically, the fun lived on. In practice, the death of profit had put a pall over the whole family.
In fact, that's why they were stuck living not in, but near, Ondine, Louisiana. They couldn't sell the run-down French Creole maison, so they had to live in it. It was approximately freaking nowhere- an hour to New Orleans, but probably two or three on foot. And everything between was swamp and bullshit as far as Alex was concerned.
Spending his junior year in Louisiana hadn't been in Alex's plans. And definitely not spending it in a two hundred-year-old house that only had water downstairs, and air conditioning provided by the wind off the river.
He lay in bed, slick with sweat, watching shadows cross his ceiling. The trees stretched their fingers, dancing and curling in the wind. Lulled toward sleep, Alex turned toward the window, to better hear the wind chime. Its silvery song cooled the air; the pleasant chaos of its notes filled the dark.
It was just as it was too late to keep from falling asleep that Alex realized they didn't have a wind chime.
2. May 1, 1861
Someone had been sleeping in Ryder Walker's bed.
To be fair, Ryder himself should have been sleeping in it- his mother's cure for scarlet fever was absolute. Lying in, no open windows, no solid food- she seemed to believe that excitement of any kind would annoy the disease and only make it worse. She'd even taken the newspaper, as if news of the war between the states might somehow shock his system.
How could it? They had already packed their finest things- mother's china dolls, father's law books- and purchased train tickets back home to Maine. The Walkers knew very well the war was coming to Louisiana, and they wanted nothing to do with it. All that delayed them was Ryder's sudden illness.
The summer was a miserable one. The days were still and humid. The nights likewise. That's what was going to kill him, Ryder decided- sweating to death in silence. So he sat in the open window, trailing his fingers through the wind chime to make it sing. And when he heard his mother's footsteps approach, he hurried back to bed.
But someone else had been lying in it. A body's perfect shape marred the right side- taller than him. Broader than him. And when Ryder put his hand in the impression, he shivered. For it was the sole expanse in all of Louisiana that was, at the height of the day, cold to the touch.
The doorknob turned. Throwing himself into the impression, Ryder shivered- his teeth chattered. And when he drew a thin breath, he didn't draw it alone. With what, with whom, he shared it- he didn't know. But he was certain, as his mother pulled the covers to his chin that he was not alone.
3. May 1, 2010
Alex twisted in his sheets, the river's wind chilling his skin.
Fitful sleep led to fitful dreams. At first, they were nothing but watercolor impressions- smears of color and motion. But Alex turned, and realized first he had hands, and a body- and then that he stood in the middle of his bedroom, which wasn't quite his bedroom anymore. That's when everything went a little odd.
If his father had seen the wallpaper, he would have called it Early French Whorehouse. Gone were the creamy blues and whites Alex had been forced to paint himself. Beneath the chair rail, scarlet and gold and green stripes. Above it- more scarlet, with gold bees scattered across the field. A heavy, four-poster bed filled the room- the wood stained dark, the mattress sitting up high.
And on the edge of it sat a boy his age, seventeen probably, put together at strange angles. Alex knew him, but didn't know him- and he shivered, because watched him with eyes the color of winter. Dark hair, crooked smile, the boy finally said, "I've been waiting for you."
Alex's lips parted, and he said something vague, that made sense in dreams, but not in waking. And then Alex kissed him, because he'd ached to since he walked in, not that he'd really walked in. His skin was feverish, his lips dry and rasping. Alex murmured against them, "I know, I'm sorry."
"I can forgive you this time," the boy said. He threaded his fingers in Alex's hair and sighed. "I always do."
4. May 1, 1861
Waking with a start, Ryder stared at a hand that curled in nothing, and touched lips that insisted by sensation that they had just been kissed. He only meant to sit up, but the fever caught on his skin and stole the strength from his knees. Instead of sitting up, he slid out of bed. The floor, even the floor, felt hot under his cheek.
Head unsettled and distant from his body, he managed to pick himself up. Any number of things made sense that shouldn't have. His sweetheart, the one he didn't have, had leaned over him in the dark. And now the wind called- whispers in the trees, through the chimes. It seemed very clear that it would be cooler by the river.
So Ryder let himself into the hall, which was still. So still, and lit only by the low gold moon. Down the stairs, he told himself. Out the door. Down the allé.
5. May 1, 2010
Staggering out of his room, Alex jumped when his mother screamed. She stood outside the bathroom door, illuminated by faintly blue vanity lights. They cast shadows under her eyes and hollowed her cheeks- she was a ghost in the hallway, and Alex leaned against the wall to catch his breath.
"What's the matter?" she asked. Unaware that she was a phantom, she strode over and plastered both of her hands on his face. Her touch burned away the impressions the boy had left on his skin, and he fought the urge to push her away.
New shadows dug into her brow. "You're burning up."
Alex slid past her. "It's about a million degrees in here, I wonder why."
"Take some aspirin and go back to bed," she said.
She didn't need to know, but Alex told her anyway, "I'm going for a walk." And then he hit the stairs hard, bare feet rumbling like thunder that wouldn't come- because she'd tell him to stay away from the river.
And that's exactly where he was going.
6. May 1, 1861
The oak trees whispered overhead, prayers or warnings, hard to tell which. The crushed shell walk glowed in the dark, one of the reasons Ryder's mother had chosen Beau Temps. The trees, they were romantic- the walk, it was mystical, the river, it was a dream.
But he thought it sounded like old bones, that walk. Ryder smeared his hair off his brow, shivering when the shell cut into his bare feet. He didn't like his mother's dreams at all- he wished for his own back. For the black-eyed boy who kissed him without hesitation; as if he knew them. As if it were destiny.
The wind swept off the river, running fingers into his collar and teasing up the hem of his nightshirt. Ryder hurried, or he thought he did, because there was a silhouette there, broad shoulders outlined by in silver. The gentle waves of the river shone through him, throwing moonlight back at the stars.
7. May 1, 2010
Alex turned, just as the haze in the air turned opaque. The boy was a black and white picture, painted on glass. Alex could see the house not just behind him, but through him. But he was the right one- he knew him, and he didn't; they fit together perfectly in a fevered dream. In lives they'd lived before, and likely would again.
"Took you long enough," Alex said, and held out his hand.
Ryder took it, and kissed it, offering yet another crooked smile. "You're always so impatient."
People in Ondine talked about it, of course. How that Yankee boy down the road walked into the river and disappeared. Nobody thought much of the family- a bunch of opportunists who got stuck living on the old gold coast- but they sent condolences and cassoulets all the same.
And after church, just among themselves, they agreed that Beau Temps had a taste for firstborn, northern-born sons. That house, they declared, was southern, through and through.
First, the Walker boy during the Civil War, now this Mallory boy- both of them up and disappearing into the Mississippi at night. If the Yankees knew better- but when did they ever?
Selma down at the paper managed to dig up pictures of both of them, and ran them with the story. Wasn't it funny, she mused, the way they seemed to lean to each other, like they could get out of their photos and somehow meet in the middle?
Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She's dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. She teaches herself languages, raises children, and makes paper for fun. She's also a screenwriter for Fresh Films and the author of Shadowed Summer, The Vespertine and The Springsweet. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.