The method goes as follows:
- Prepare the corpse by repairing whatever fatal injury lead to the subject’s demise.
- Keep the body stored in a dry environment of temperature ranging from 36.12–37.8 °C. Restrain the subject as necessary for the act of resuscitation.
- Isolate subject’s DNA pattern and acquire an adequate supply of stem cell from another member of the subject’s species. Preferably, these cells ought to be harvested from a child/parent relation or other near relative.
- Create a solution of formaldehyde and-
“Why the hell are you writing this?” the deep voice purrs from its feline frame, “You’ve tried this technique already. It failed.”
“You’re alive aren’t you?” I growl with impatience, ignoring the small creature to continue with my work.
“But I am not what you meant to bring back,” Mephistopheles croons from the cat’s mouth, his perfectly human voice reaching a depth a house-cat’s vocal cords could never naturally reach.
I glance at Mephistopheles’ body. All hair has fallen off the animal’s skin, an un-anticipated side effect of the procedure. A nasty bruising scar decorates its face, where I had accidentally struck it with my car nearly two weeks ago. Faint guilt wells up in my gut as I look over the profane being, who I had buried secretly in my back yard, whom I had raised again to test my theory, whose owner has plastered posters of its face on every telephone post in town, bearing the simple caption: LOST PET.
“I made a mistake,” I reply to the demon’s taunting, “I can make it work.”
“What are you going to re-animate next, dearest friend? A squirrel? Maybe even a pigeon? Do you have any clue the error you’ve made in your calculations?”
“Stop talking,” I shake my head, “I swear to God, I’ll muzzle you.”
“The fact that my words bother you prove that you grasp their validity,” Mephistopheles continues as he stretches his hairless body out in the cellar’s faint light, “You’ve studied the biology and chemistry again and again and again, but that was never your mistake. I think you know that deep down.”
I keep my eyes down on my work, not wanting to reply to the creature’s mocking.
“Why do you keep me alive?” the voice asks from the cat’s puny maw, “At first you told yourself it was in interest of science, that you needed to behold how my life would develop. But from the first time I spoke, you never looked at me with anything but contempt. I could see it clear as day in your eyes you wanted to destroy me. You know why? Because I prove that your grand experiment failed, and that even if you preform it on whom you truly wish to bring back, she might not return with the proper soul.”
I grit my teeth.
“So why then do you keep me alive?” Mephistopheles’ charismatic voice dances happily along, “Well I’ll tell you. It’s because I have what you seek.”
“Can’t you just leave me in peace?” I plead with exhaustion.
“I inhabit a cat. You could throw me into the ocean or break my neck with hardly an ounce of effort spent; I exist because you summoned me forth, and I continue to exist because you allow it. I can give you what you want.”
“And how would you do that?” I snap, my voice cracking lightly.
The cat stalks towards my spot at the desk. It climbs gingerly over a half-collapsed pile of papers that run harmlessly over a discarded pair of gloves, which I had bought to handle sensitive chemicals. Several beakers holding fluids of differing colors sit behind the papers on the far side of the desk, beneath the brick wall upon which hang a few technical diagrams I had taped up during my research. Below the diagrams, a mound of obscure books loiters with yellowing pages molding in the damp basement air.
“I can bring her back,” Mephistopheles tells me with utmost sincerity, although the cat’s face remains impossible to read.
“At what cost?” I ask grimly.
“No cost. I will bring her back for no reason other than you desire it.”
“You’re lying,” I shake my head, “Nothing in this life is for free.”
“What you seek is not in this life,” the demon counters.
“It’s not possible,” I shake my head weakly, “Without giving anything up, how can I expect to earn her back? Everything must be earned somehow; it’s simple cause and effect.”
“And why did she die?” Mephistopheles asks rhetorically, “What, pray tell, did she do to earn her own destruction? Sometimes, my dearest friend, bad things happen for no reason at all. But despair not, for good things can also happen equally un-earned. I’m offering you a gift, free of charge. All you must do is seize it.”
“How?” I moan, my desperation breaking through my distrust of the demon.
“It’s not too hard,” he assures me, “Just follow my simple instructions and you’ll have your daughter back in just a couple days.”
“The method goes as follows,” the cat begins with clear amusement, “First you must kill this current body of mine. I cannot find who you seek unless my spirit wanders on the other side. After this body’s death, you must stow the corpse in your daughter’s coffin. The dead cat will act as a bridge between worlds. Additionally, when you re-seal the lid of the coffin with the cat within, you must take note of the exact time.”
I listen intently, although without making eye-contact.
“As for the second step,” Mephistopheles continues, “You must bring your daughter’s body deep into the woods, where there is no human within earshot. There, you will burn her body. You must watch the entire occasion, and once the fire dies naturally, you will cast the ashes into a sea or lake, where they can never be recovered.”
“Because nobody can re-enter life until all physical traces of their past life have been obliterated.”
I say nothing, and in my silence the animal continues its instructions:
“Finally, you will return to the coffin in which you sealed my remains. Within six minutes of the fourteenth hour after you closed the coffin you will open it up. If you waited too long or too little, or failed to follow any one step of my instructions, the ritual will likewise fail, and you will only find a dead cat within the box. If you are successful, however, your daughter will be alive and well in the coffin, just as she was the morning of her death.”
“That’s it,” the demon nods.
“And I must defile my own child’s grave?”
“Oh come now,” Mephistopheles laughs, “Surely if you tried your ‘scientific’ little experiment you’d have done the same. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
“You said there wouldn’t be a price,” I grumble with annoyance.
“Digging up a body in exchange for its life? That’s not a price, that’s tearing off the wrapping paper.”
I shake my head, looking briefly over my papers of calculations and meticulously drawn conclusions. Then I turn to the possessed cat that I couldn’t even bring properly into this world.
“You have a deal.”
“Excellent,” Mephistopheles purrs eagerly, “If you like, I can accompany you to the cemetery, keep a lookout for you.”
“Fine,” I reply, leaving the room to fetch my shovel. All along the way, the cat follows at my heel, a clear spring in its step.
The trip to the cemetery goes by without notable disturbance, although with my nerves the short drive down the graveyard’s road seems to last days on its own. In the back, my shovel lays idly on the seat while the car cruises past the church and parks next to the green lot filled with tombstones. Mephistopheles sits on the passenger side, curiously watching the outside world.
The cat exits the car as I do and meanders around the grounds as I collect the shovel from the back. After a short, fidgety walk to the grave, I stab the spade into the soft earth just as Mephistopheles hops up onto the granite slab.
While the cat watches for intruders from his perch on the tombstone, I begin digging up the coffin.
“Put your back into it,” he taunts, “I don’t want to be here all night.”
“Shut up,” I bark in a hush, between strained breaths. Sweat runs down my brow as I tossed shovel-full after shovel-full of dirt out of the hole.
The task quickly wears through the night, until the earliest dawn peaks up over the trees.
“It’s heavy,” I groan as I pull up the sealed coffin, not as reverent of the event as I had expected. Exhaustion does funny things to people.
With the casket out of the grave, I work to refill the hole. To erase the absence left by the removed coffin, I take several scoops from the ditch along the church’s road. The process takes another unbearably long span of time, and with every passing minute my demeanor breaks down more and more. I barely manage to keep it together, even at the end as I carefully place the up-rooted grass back in place to cover up any evidence of what happened.
“Get it into the car,” the cat commands as it takes off at a trot, “Surely somebody’ll be coming soon.”
After dragging the heavy box to my car, I manage to heave it into the back.
“Good thing your daughter died young and light,” Mephistopheles quips as I collapse into the driver’s seat and look around one last time for witnesses.
“You’re all good,” Mephistopheles assures me, “Just drive.”
Without further prompting, I steer the car back home. The shovel now sits on top the ornate box, where it shakes with every bump in the road. Again, the cat just watches the scenery idly roll by.
Back at the house, I park the car in the garage and shut the door.
Once concealed, I pull the coffin out onto the concrete floor. My heart threatens to pound through my chest as I run my hand over the face of the casket.
“You might want to rest before this next step,” the cat cautions.
“No more waiting.”
With that, I lean forward to the casket. With a deep breath, I run my fingers under the lid, feeling the latch that will open up the sealed box. For just a moment, I remember shutting it, where I stood in the funeral home with my face cast down to the cheap carpeting at my feet. Choking back tears, I unfasten the hatch and the coffin flips open.
I nearly pass out from the stench.
“Dear god,” I gasp, tearing my eyes away from the casket’s contents.
“Be strong,” the feline comforts me lightly, “It’ll be over soon.”
Trying to keep my eyes away from her, I lift her from the casket to set her onto the garage floor. Her body feels unnaturally rigid to the touch, as through it’s dried into a husk. A tremble runs through my hands, and I feel light-headed as I place her on the concrete below.
“So far so good,” Mephistopheles says quietly, “The hardest part is nearly done. Now place me into the box.”
After taking a moment to compose myself, I follow the cat’s instructions and place it in the center of the open coffin.
“You know what comes next?” the demon asks.
“I kill you,” I reply, “I bring my daughter out into the woods to destroy her corpse, and I return to open this box in fourteen hours. If all goes well, we’ll not meet again.”
“I guess…” I say quietly, “Thank you. I mean it.”
The cat doesn’t reply, watching me intently.
With shaky movement, I run my fingers around the cat’s throat. Its bald skin feels unnervingly human to the touch, and I struggle to collect my strength.
I break the cat’s neck.
Letting go and gasping, I pull my arms in to my torso, where they wrap around me in a hug. The cat lies on the casket floor with its neck bent at a sickening angle and the slightest shade of a smirk resting on its lips.
Momentarily at a loss, I just sit in the garage with silence pounding mercilessly at my ears. I choke back vomit as I stare off into the invisible distance, blocked by the barren garage walls.
Eventually, that horrid rotting odor motivates me to continue my task.
I make a quick note of the time, cursing myself for almost forgetting, as I shut the coffin tight with the animal’s remains within. After, I lift my daughter into the back of the car, trying in vain to keep my mind utterly detached from the action. Whether to preserve her dignity or to save my own skin, I cover up her remains with an old jacket from the house. Finally, I set a tank of gasoline I keep for my lawn-mower in the trunk.
With that all done, I open the garage door and climb back into the driver’s seat.
“Whatever it takes,” I say quietly to myself as I take the car out of the garage and down the familiar neighborhood street. A pedestrian a few houses down politely gives me a wave which I return with a faint grimace. For a moment, I consider rolling the windows down to help with the smell but stop myself out of fear of attracting attention with the stench.
Turning my own attention back to my drive, I try to focus on keeping to back-roads. I drive alongside the highway on a small frontage trail, where I eventually turn off onto a dirt road that twists out into the countryside.
Trees stretch up into the sky as the car turns into a wooded park area. I circle the lot a few times to make sure no other cars are present before I park.
“How can I get her out without being seen?” I wonder aloud before coming to a simple conclusion.
Glancing around the park, I hoist my daughter over my torso so her head props up on my shoulder. Then, I cover her with the jacket. All in all, it looks like she fell asleep with me carrying her.
“Just a little hike,” I tell myself as I lock up the car and pick up the gasoline tank. After looking around briefly and picking a trail I had walked a good while ago, I step into the wood-side.
The trail wraps around a sizable lake, all the while going up and down small hills in the terrain. With every slope, I realize just how much the dig wore me out. A dull aching has settled into my arms, and I repeatedly adjust my grip on my daughter to keep her from slipping from my exhausted grasp.
Although I try to avoid looking or thinking of my child, my attention inevitably falls to my lifeless companion. I hate having to see her prettiest white dress, the one she had fought having to wear to her aunt’s wedding, the one I thought she looked like a little angel in, the fine little cloth gown that now holds her decaying body in death. My eyes run with dread up to her face, which has lost its innocent beauty. Her own features have sunken in and lost their color, and I can see faint suturing over her lips where the embalmer had sewn them into a relaxed smile.
Her head still lies on my shoulder, her brittle hair touching my skin. Every moment of contact makes me ill, and I have to tell myself over and over what I stood to gain.
“Good morning,” a passing hiker greets me casually, making me jump.
“Good morning,” I repeat in a murmur, trying and failing to relax. The hiker quickly passes out of sight, and after glancing to make sure he had indeed left, I turn off the trail and walk through the taller weeds for several hundred meters until I come to a small clearing.
After setting my daughter down in the clearing, I scout out the area to make sure no trails pass closely by. The lake sits close to the clearing, but I find no other areas of interest nearby. Once I’m confident of our solitude, I set up a small stack of branches under her, uncap the gasoline, and pour the fuel over the body.
“See you soon, sweetie,” I tell my daughter quietly as I flick my lighter on and set the pyre aflame.
I fall back onto my bottom as she burns away in front of me. Wiping off tears that I cannot tell if the smoke has caused, I watch the cremation with shaken nerves.
Words cannot convey how long that moment lasts.
I look down towards the grass, terrified of actually seeing the flames swallow my child whole. A constant wave of heat presses against me, and I clench my teeth as I hold my ground. With my knuckles white over my clenched fists, I curse having to let go of her again, even if only to bring her back to me.
Even as the fire inevitably smolders away, the wretched heat never quite leaves my skin. I finally raise my vision to the sight, seeing only a mound of red-glowing ash and embers before me. In time, these too lose their color and fade to a dull due just as the air loses its warmth in a bitter chill.
“Why didn’t I bring the shovel?” I ask myself, feeling idiotic.
Knowing the lake lay only just outside the clearing, I grab a handful of the ash to toss out. Upon my return, I grab two handfuls, and then on the third trip, an armful. Eventually, I remove my shirt, which I fill with ash to move in a greater volume. Nevertheless it takes well over an hour to clear out all the remains.
I throw the last haul into the lake unceremoniously, before the tossing the entire shirt away just to be certain.
“Six more hours,” I say aloud, checking the time.
After looking over the empty spot where my daughter had left me again, I spend half an hour of my remaining time hiking back to my car.
Next I spend another half hour on the drive home. Once there, I park the car outside, not wanting to open the garage door with the casket still inside. I cannot help but glance nervously up and down the empty street.
After going through the house, I sit just next to the coffin in the garage. It takes every ounce of my self-restraint not to tear open the lid knowing that my daughter may appear within. I can see her so perfectly in my mind, free from all the markings of death that I had burned away and cast into the waters.
Hunger growls in my stomach, a faint remainder that I hadn’t eaten since yesterday. I refuse to move from the coffin’s side however, and watch over the motionless wooden box.
Hours stretch by in an agonizing crawl. I pace around the outskirts of the garage, mumbling to myself words that I forget even as I say them. Never in my entire life have I wanted so badly to skip forwards into the future, just a moment to buy some relief from this anticipation.
In the end, I’m practically shaking, unable to sit still for even a moment. My eyes watch intently as the time ticks so painstakingly slowly towards the fourteenth hour. I count it down on my lips until it comes.
My heart stops.
Mephistopheles instructed me to open that box within six minutes of the fourteenth hour after I sealed the box; those six minutes have come.
I bide my time in stunned silence, terrified to look, lest I’ve miscounted the hours. Again and again, I check my math to make sure I had counted time correctly. I decide to let the last minutes pass just in case, getting as close as possible to the fourteenth hour mark.
The last minute comes without fanfare, and the moments fall away with unyielding certainty. I watch the final seconds as butterflies dance in my gut.
I place my hand under the lid, feeling the latch where it had lay before. Although the device hasn’t changed, my own emotional state bears no resemblance to the last time I had to open the casket. Time passes through the mental mark where I placed the fourteenth hour, and with a sigh, I lift the coffin open to whatever may await me.
It’s her. She’s alive.
There’s nothing there, just a dead cat in a box.
“Oh my god,” I gasp aloud as I grab her. Her eyes creak open as though waking from a deep slumber. She looks confused to see me.
“Oh god,” I moan as I look at the cat’s corpse festering in the center of the coffin, “How can this be? I did everything I was supposed to! Every step, I followed to the ‘t’. This can’t be happening… I don’t deserve this.”
“I don’t deserve this,” I sob as I wrap my arms around her.
“Are you okay?” she asks, not understanding my emotional response.
“Did he lie to me?” my voice changes as I come to the realization, “That’s it isn’t it? This was all his little game, to make me jump through those hoops, to get my hopes built up and then dashed into nothing. Damn him!”
“I’m fine sweetie,” I reply softly, running my fingers through her soft hair, still in disbelief that the ritual worked, “How do you feel?”
“And now the body’s been destroyed. Even if I knew how to perfect my original procedure, there would be nothing to raise back.”
I defiled her grave for nothing. I dug her up and looked over her decaying face for nothing.
“I feel alright,” she says curtly before looking around, “Why are we in the garage? Am I in a box?”
“We were playing a game,” I lie quickly, “Come on, are you hungry? I could get you something to eat. How do pancakes sound? I’m starving.”
“Damn it!” I scream, kicking the coffin over.
“I feel kinda strange,” she says just before we leave the garage.
“How so?” I ask with concern.
“I think I had a bad dream,” she replied, “It’s like I can remember another life. My own. It was the same, but different. I dunno…”
The cat’s ruined body sits on the garage floor near the base of the knocked over casket. I stomp it into mush, relishing the sound as the bones crack beneath my foot. Splatter runs up my legs as I drive my heel into its tiny skull.
“None of it was real,” I say reassuringly as I lift her into the house.
None of this is real. It can’t be…
Written by Levi Salvos