POSTHUMOUS: Book One of the Cadabra Rasa series - Excerpt
by David S.E. Zapanta
Jesse Bettenay was a boy of twenty, bespectacled, slight, unkempt, broken-hearted. He wore a borrowed, oversized two-piece suit. The left lapel was torn, and two of the jacket’s front buttons were missing. But Jesse did not care about such details as he trudged along a muddy cemetery path.
Just a week earlier, Jesse and his girlfriend, Ella, secretly consulted with a local witch doctor. Twenty-one was the legal age for rebirth in most states, and both Jesse and Ella were mere weeks away from their twenty-first birthdays. The young couple intended to die together so that they could be reborn together. But as they left the rebirth clinic they were accosted by violent Neo-Lifers; only Jesse survived the brutal attack.
Ella’s parents, both staunch Burialists, steadfastly refused their daughter’s dying wish to be reanimated. Like so many Neo-Lifers, all her parents knew of the undead were the ugly, brain-eating stereotypes. Jesse, a Kansas boy from a Resurrectionist upbringing, had fought stridently, futilely, to change their minds.
None of that mattered now, of course. Jesse couldn’t raise enough money for the all-important talisman tax, much less pay a witch doctor to raise Ella from the dead. No, she was truly lost to him forever. And now her body would rot beneath six feet of loam and soil, her cold flesh a feast for insatiable insects.
Jesse slogged along in the mud as his eyes smarted with a fresh wave of tears. He swiped angrily at his bruised, swollen face and berated himself with muttered recriminations. Jesse was a pauper, a nobody, powerless, his beleaguered heart pounding out a never-ending tattoo of regret.
He stumbled and fell to his knees as the deep muck shod him of his right shoe. Jesse lay prone in the mud, his suit pockets full of damp earth. He abandoned his shoe where it lay and continued on, determined to pay his last respects.
The whole of the Stony Hollow graveyard spread out below him as he crested a steep hill. Like most modern cemeteries this one was quite small, occupying less than two acres of barren land. Even so, as Jesse wandered down into the field, his mind boggled at the hundreds of pitted headstones.
Ella deserved better than this—all of these forgotten souls did. That was the beauty of rebirth—it was the ultimate second chance. Cadabra Rasa, the Resurrectionists called it. Jesse resolved then and there to rescue her from dark, unremarkable obscurity. But any dreams of post-mortem chivalry evaporated the moment he noticed a small crowd huddled around a nearby gravesite. No, not just any site—it was Ella’s plot. Jesse knew this because he recognized Ella’s parents and younger sister. He paused mid-stride and considered his sodden clothes and muddy hands. He looked as if he himself had just emerged from the very earth he so feared as a final resting place.
Jesse knew he owed it to Ella not to back down now. Even in death she was more beautiful to him than she ever was alive.
“Death is only the beginning,” he whispered to himself. Jesse cautiously drew nearer, his heart beating furiously in his narrow chest. You couldn’t save her from those Neo-Lifers, he told himself. Rescue her now.
It wasn’t until Jesse emerged into the glen, though, that he noticed the two Indiana state troopers flanking Ella’s family. All of them were staring down at the gaping hole in the freshly turned soil. Jesse’s eyes widened with amazement when he saw the muddy tracks that led away from Ella’s empty grave.
“There, that’s him,” yelled Ella’s father, and stabbed a finger in Jesse’s direction. “That’s the boyfriend!”
Ella’s mother clutched weakly at her dark shawl. “You,” she shrieked at Jesse. “Bring her back!” Ella’s sister, Jill, tried to soothe her mother but was angrily rebuffed. “She belongs in the ground, you filthy zombie lover!”
Jesse began to back away. Thanks to a 150-year-old law known as the Reanimation Proclamation, cadaver poaching was a capital offense. The sentence was a fate worse than death to a Resurrectionist: cremation.
“I—I didn’t do it,” Jesse said, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I swear to Lazarus, I didn’t.”
The two officers exchanged a wary glance. “Take it easy now, son,” said the first trooper. He slowly reached for his holster. “We just want to talk.”
But Jesse Bettenay had no intention of talking to anyone. All he wanted to do was find Ella. He turned and fled back up the path. Two shots rang out as a pair of footsteps thundered across the field. Both troopers swore as they slipped in the mud. Jesse followed Ella’s trail through the damp earth as long as he could before it veered from the path and vanished in the wet grass.
One more shot rang out, closer this time.
Jesse held his breath, waiting for the final gunshot that never came. He chased his own footsteps back up the muddy path and out of the cemetery.
Over the next ten years the details of that fateful day fell prey to the usual embellishments. In one of the story’s more popular iterations, the locals insist that Jesse wrested away an officer’s firearm and took Ella’s parents hostage. But the prevailing folklore painted Jesse as a mystic, a shaman, invoking black magic to summon an undead army to keep his would-be pursuers at bay.
Local mythology aside, a single detail emerged as irrefutable fact: No one in the little town of Stony Hollow, Indiana, ever saw Jesse Bettenay or Ella Brownstone again.
POSTHUMOUS excerpt and all related content and illustrations © 2018 David S.E. Zapanta. All rights reserved.