Bowlesian! – Resurrection MixtapePosted: November 2, 2022
Note: for this month’s Bowlesian! I thought I’d share the first chapter of my newest novel, just released on Amazon this week. Please enjoy this sneak peek of “Resurrection Mixtape”. It’s all in the music, man. Press play at your own risk.
Resurrection Mixtape – Chapter 1
by Jeff Bowles
Firstly, an epitaph—
A mutual acquaintance introduced us. Years ago, when we were still in school. Emily was new to the city and wary of putting herself out there, which I could align with, because I wasn’t always eager to let new people into my life either. As it turned out, we both had respectable music collections. Her lexicon of rock and country and hip-hop and jazz, roots music, metal, soul, R&B, it was terribly impressive. I told her as much.
“Maybe we could combine forces and start a radio station,” she laughed.
“People don’t listen to music anymore. Not like they used to.”
And she gave me a puzzled look. “Yes, they do. Who on earth told you that?”
Emily didn’t buy the bad in life. Rented it sometimes, maybe. But rarely did she dwell therein. Everything we went through together, and she ended up with a guy named Guy. Stupid name for a guy, right? I mean, Guy. Barely a fucking noun. Guy was a real estate man, loaded, paid for one hell of a funeral. I attended of course. I forced myself to go. All it did was hurt me. I could’ve loved her better than anyone else. I would’ve seen to her every … well, I would’ve seen to her.
Maybe the MC at her wake played Bridge Over Troubled Water or something. I don’t remember. Emily would’ve preferred a more personal touch, perhaps even a song or two from one of her famous mixtapes….
* * * * *
Late Sunday Night—or early Monday morning, if you prefer
Summer in Seattle—KNOCK, KNOCK
The dead woman standing at my doorstep could not account for herself, how she’d gotten there, by what incredible means. Expression vacant and gloomy, her eyes shifted from the contours of the porch, to my face, to the bright interior space behind me. My dearly departed friend, Emily Greer, almost a year to the day since she died in the fire. Not a ghost or a demonic apparition, not charred to a cinder or desiccated, sticky with rot, disfigured beyond belief.
She looked perfect, untouched, like she’d just stepped from one of my memories. Naked and soaked in sweat, she shivered like a Pomeranian, like she’d just come through some terrible ordeal.
“Emily,” I breathed.
To which she replied, “Bluuuurgh.”
I blinked at her, dumbfounded, mind gloppy like horse glue. A soft vodka belch escaped my lips. Clearly, my night had shit-slipped into a different plane of reality. This was quickly and decisively not okay with me, like the music of Jared Leto or those little blonde fucks who sang MMMBop. It was well past midnight, humid and still. I felt hot and tired. Inebriated. Bewildered.
Those we connect with—in whose mental and emotional machinery we become entangled—enter and exit our lives at specific times for specific purposes. After everything I’ve seen, I can come to no other conclusion. But for me and you and everyone else, purpose can cut both ways. Like maybe you only meet someone so they can screw you over, make you feel scared or small, scar you up for the rest of your life (and maybe even your afterlife).
Case in point.
Emily held something small in her hand, just a little thing. Its plastic body reflected the soft, normative glow of my 60-watt porch light. An old audio cassette. Or maybe not old at all, hard to tell. She seemed to perceive its existence the same moment I did. She glanced at it and gurgled. Her hand trembled as she passed it to me.
“You … you want me to have this?” I asked.
Her head lolled to the side.
“What for…? What’s on it?” I said.
I scanned one side of it, Side A, then I flipped it over and scanned Side B. Clear body, bold crimson Maxell logo, its label inscribed in black ink: FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING. Once death and resurrection are on the table, one abandons compelling discriminative thinking anyway. I just so happened to have an old workhorse HiFi system sitting next to the TV in the living room. Tape deck still worked fine, too.
I told her she’d better come inside, that I had nosy neighbors. No skin off her bare ass. She staggered through the door, knocking into me as she crossed the threshold. The television blared at us from the next room. A Pink Floyd documentary I’d been dozing through. Dark Side of the Moon, spacey and comforting. I shut the door behind her and told her to sit tight while I went to flick it off. I was gone twenty seconds at most. When I turned around to head back, I found her seated comfortably on my sofa.
“How…?” I said.
“How’d you move so—”
“Okay, playing it. No need to get prickly.”
Machinelike, I powered up the HiFi, slid the cassette into the tape deck, hit the play button. A slight audio compression noise filled the room, the whir of blank magnetic space, a click when it tracked. A strange voice blasted from my upright speakers.
“Jason Halifax,” it said, “you are called. We call you. Play this cassette in full every Monday for precisely five weeks. Play it in full now and then follow our prescribed schedule for the remainder of the attenuation period. Do not deviate. We cannot stress this enough. Terrible things will happen if you do. Just awful.”
The voice was neither masculine nor feminine, young nor old. It was cold and ethereal, seeming to fill my mind as much as my ears.
“Upon completion of this task, Emily Greer will have regained her faculties in full. Made whole, better even. Quite simply, you will witness the birth of a god among women. You have been advised and duly warned. End spoken word portion.”
A clean, jangling piano flooded the sound field. My heart skipped a beat as it cycled through some pleasant seaside chords. A snare drum popped, a kick thudded, and the tempo changed. Billy Joel started singing Only the Good Die Young. 1978, charted at number 25, track six off his album, The Stranger.
I glared at Emily. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
* * * * *
For the Man Who Has Everything wasone of a dozen mixtapes Emily gifted me over the course of our ten-year friendship. It was a hobby of hers. She accepted and adored all kinds of music. I’ve never known anyone so universal. Her latest and greatest contained ten tracks in total. A few notable inclusions:
Blinding Lights, by The Weeknd, released in 2019. Driving, dirty synth pop with potent neo Michael-Jacksonian vocals.
My Sharona, by The Knack, recorded in 1979. Energetic and meaty. A pop classic everyone loves to hate or hates to love.
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), by The Temptations, released in the year 1971. The ultimate unrequited love song. So many beautiful bits and pieces. A delicate yet powerful composition, poetry in motion.
“You made this for me?” I asked, meaning the playlist itself.
Her head tipped back and then forward.
“Why?” I said.
She looked down at herself, patted her knees, seeming at last to have noticed she was freebirding it.
“You need something to wear. Thank you for that,” I said.
I tore my eyes away and headed upstairs to the bedroom, pilfered the pile of clothes lying on my floor. A t-shirt and some black sweatpants. They’d have to do. The muffled, soulful strains of Just My Imagination called to me. The song should’ve acted as a balm, a healing touch, but no such luck. I was just as busted up and bewildered as the night I heard about the fire.
Contrary to what I’d once believed about us, Emily never was Lennon to my McCartney, Simon to my Garfunkel. We were more like an alternate comic book dimension Rogers and Hammerstein. Like maybe Rogers writes the lyrics while Hammerstein shits in the corner. Repeatedly, just shitting over in that corner he shits in all the time … complete dissimilarity to the actual …you get my point.
Not because of who she was, understand. For what I turned into in pursuit of her. Love is destructive even at its purest and best, complete and all-powerful in its ability to obliterate and violently remake you. I’d become averse to love, superstitious of it, and for what it’s worth, willing to let any and all opportunities pass. I thought about that as I shook loose change from the pockets of the sweatpants. How many times I could’ve gotten with someone but elected not to on her behalf. I could’ve fucked my way into some kind of reasonable mental clarity. You never know. Instead, I chose the way of the lovelorn monk, because there’s so much joy to be had there.
Sighing, I tucked the clothes under my arm and headed back downstairs. She was right where I left her, on the sofa, listening to the music.
“Emily,” I said, “how is any of this possible?”
She stared at me like I’d just asked her to solve the relativistic mass-energy equation. The mixtape tracked to the next song, Style by Taylor Swift. I wondered if she knew I hated Taylor Swift (I mean, outwardly, anyway—what kind of monster literally hates Taylor Swift?).
I eyed her, resisting my growing resentment of the lack of reciprocal mental feedback. Setting the clothes beside her on the sofa, I noted how doped up and dreamy her big googly eyes appeared. I helped her dress. One arm and then the other, her legs, flimsy as noodles, awkward to stuff down pant legs. My hand touched the inside of her thigh. Still slick with sweat. Up, dude, look up.
Emily gurgled again at me. I offered her something to eat, mimed shoveling food into my mouth.
“Blarrss,” she said.
Her body and expression froze. Her next intended syllable—whatever that may have been—stuck in her throat. She went very pale, rigid.
“What’s wrong?” I said. “Not hungry?”
A subtle chill passed over the room, a lazy coolness like from long afternoon shadows. The wooden framework of my home creaked and groaned. Emily let out the most godawful moan I’d ever heard. The blood drained from her face, her eyes darting around, lips quivering. She collapsed into my arms, her body beginning to convulse. Worming and wriggling as she was, I couldn’t get a grip on her. The same disembodied voice from the cassette exploded from her mouth.
“This is not a social call, Jason Halifax,” it said. “Contractual obligations must be met. Our conglomeration simply could not turn a blind eye to the situation at hand.”
It dawned on me this voice, this presence, expected a response.
“This is about a contract?” I said.
“I don’t remember signing any—”
“You signed with your soul, Jason, with your intentions and all your secret hopes and desires. You believed this woman should be yours. Evidently, she did not disagree. Neither could the contract have been fulfilled while she was dead. Obviously so.”
“What do you mean she didn’t disagree? Who are you?”
“God,” the voice said.
“No, not really. That was a joke.”
The most bewildering and unnatural laughter rocked poor Emily’s body. It sounded like demons baying in skanky reverb, a mess of harsh unholy shit-swallowing. And I’ve never swallowed shit before, right? But contextually speaking, it sounded like goats suck-starting an elephant.
“Listen,” I said, “if we’re only gonna talk crazy here, I’m going to need something heavier than vodka.”
“Crazy? You’ve no comprehension of the word. Our true nature strains credulity. To attempt a worthy explanation of who we are and what we’re capable of would doubtless mystify you. Emily loved you dearly. That’s the important thing. It hurt her very much that you drifted apart.”
“That’s not how things were. I don’t believe you, Skeletor.”
“Skeletor. Ha. Yes, well looks can be deceiving. Make her whole, Jason. Protect this life, her life, her second chance. Love her with all your heart and soul. Isn’t that everything you’ve always wanted?”
And that’s it, folks! Pick up your copy of Resurrection Mixtape now. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next month with a December Bowlesian! short story that’ll knock your socks off. Goodbye!
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Love/Madness/Demon, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.