The Baby Justice League of the Undead
by Meg Sefton
The night my father killed me, I saw stars. At first I thought the stars were just behind my eyelids when I was struck by the axe he wielded on my skull. But then I realized they were the stars of the night sky and I was flying, shrieking, in pain and agony and fear, my skirt flapping in the wind, my sweater hanging from me like wings, tearing past veils – dark, light, and soft – and I began to be aware of a curious collective presence as soft as my mother’s soft-worn dresses hanging in the wardrobe. I realized I was floating in a dark night sky. I felt the pain ebbing away from me as it would when Mama would smooth my hair with her fingers when I got what she called the brain pains. Had Daddy ever let me be, I thought to myself, I may never have had them in the first place. I first had to die.
And now, I was being carried by a feathery presence – or was there more than one? – lifting me, carrying me through mists and vapors, caressing my eyes and cheeks with soft sweet smelling tongues until the dried blood on my flesh softened and melted away. I felt a little softer on the inside too and I was no longer shrieking or crying or worried about Elizabeth, our cow, who was likely by now focused on her oats again. I only worried for my mother, alone in the house with Father except for my brother and sister Newland and Fannie, and in my worrying, I moaned a bit and a face emerged from the darkness, a young face of a girl about my age, a girl whose eyes were filled with tributaries of blood so that her milky blue eyes looked like veined marbles of the most precious kind, the one we would have wanted to win. "My name is Rachel,"she said, taking both of my hands, "We will see to your family." I loved her immediately.
So my hair doesn’t look as pretty nor does my face, but there are others of us here who are in the same boat and just can’t be bothered anymore with how ugly we are. That’s because the baby howling wakes us up and doesn’t let us sleep like some who might be in our state, deep in graves, in coffins sunk in metal boxes. We were never put to rest that way and so the baby howling, a thing which happens when a baby dies and remains unfound, keeps us awake. It is a screeching of bats clambering up in caves under mountains and it tears the ears of the undead abused teens. That’s who we are, by the way, although there are some of us as young as four, so old at heart when young. We are in flight among the grave mists at the call of the baby howl because that’s what we do.
I think we’re beautiful in our tattered clothing like soft worn shredded silk, our white faces illuminated by the moon, our bedraggled nails having grown out since death, clearing wild strands of hair aside so our view may be unobstructed though the tracking of the baby has less to do with "seeing" as we knew it when we were alive and more to do with a nocturnal sensation and this is why we are enfleshed: We are equipped, more than any other, to detect sources of pain that have been the result of unimaginable darkness, pain issuing from the breasts of babies murdered by the mothers and fathers who didn’t love them.
We call ourselves The Baby Justice League of the Undead or just The League for short and let me tell you that though we have always existed the baby howl has reached unprecedented levels. I mean, you find the babies crying in a swamp sometimes or sitting alone out in the woods or stuffed in some small place like a concrete pipe and what you do is set them on your knee and pat their cold little forehead and rock them or if they are little enough you give them your finger to suck and that’s how it is for these kids and you have to find all of them before daybreak in their part of the world and you have to put them all back to sleep because that’s just what you do because there’s no one else to do it for them. And even if they are found by the police or whoever you might still have to love them into quiet sleep because chances are if their moms or dads wanted them gone, they aren’t going to want to see them again and there is just no satisfying that kind of pain, especially in the very young who do not understand, who do not find more comfort in people their own age.
It’s a lot of hard work but it doesn’t come without its rewards besides the obvious one of making someone feel good.
Like, there were times I partied at the cemetery with my friends when I was alive, but imagine an undead party where people fly, predict the future, read each other’s minds, mess with the night guard and make out in the graves without getting busted.
I met my other best friend Sissy in the League. She was the girl who happened upon the baby who had been chloroformed and stuffed into a cooler and set out on the sea to die. She detected the baby howl even in fifteen foot swells and roaring winds, could hear it before any of us spotted the tiny white container rolling up and down on the backs of waves the size of colossal black giants tumbling over in their sleep. I said to myself, Damn, now that’s a girl of some refined sensibility. We all took turns holding the baby until she settled and then we nestled her back down into the cooler and set her adrift.
(And before you go accusing us of neglecting to save this baby, I have to reveal that it is against our code to interfere with the course of justice. We are concerned mainly that babies should not suffer unnecessarily when under our watch. Therefore, for example, this baby must be found, floating in the cooler the same way it was placed there. All we can usually hope for this side of the grave is that those who have neglected and murdered their babies will get their due.)
I had been comforting dead babies with the League for several months when a most disturbing cry rocked us. It was that of a child murdered by her mother, dismembered by said mother, and laid to rest on a parcel of land between neighborhoods. That night the cry rose up from the ground was the night the child’s mother was to be released from prison at midnight and the child, confused, was both scared and anxious as young children will be, when in a mixed state, in which, incredibly, they love their own killer. Always, it is the blood shared with their killer from birth that is more powerful than the blood that is let in their death, for the former is the first memory and the bond. That night, the moon set high in the ink that is a tropical night and over the place where the baby lay, under trees dripping with moss that feeds on air.
I would not want to be the newly slain baby of a mother like this, who could party and wear makeup twenty four hours after hacking bones from sinew, the kind of mother is so hot for eyes on her, her lust becoming bloodlust. We had heard of it but had not believed the murderess would be among the trees, the highways, the homes – mute witnesses to the crime. Even given the fact that the free woman accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she was not going to be free of a baby who is jealous of her life.
We found the child sitting under a stand of trees on the spot where she had been murdered. We had to put the body back together so we could speak to her, for the wailing came from the clattering of loosely scattered bones. Sure, the living could put her in a casket, even make her look like a doll, but in our world, there are no untruths. Even though she was only three and couldn’t explain if she tried, the case was known more generally, worldwide among the living, and the night the child’s bones were strewn about by her mother, we made a little basket nest with our arms and comforted her from the treetops. When her mother was released from jail and we again gathered up her bones, we decided to do something almost unprecedented: Return her to her previous state as much as we were able to manage.
We determined to do our best in this so she would not have to drag her bones around, so she could be of some use to herself in achieving her aim, which was to be united with her mother. (All she said the whole time we held her that night her mother got free was "Mama," "Mama," "Mama." She knew and we felt there should be no stopping her and sometimes in these cases, a child will take it upon themselves to love their killer back into reciprocated love. It is strange, I know, but it is in our unwritten text of the abused.
We cried and hugged her and kissed her and gave her a bottle even though she was a little old for that, but we all go back a little in the wake of pain and relief. She chewed on the nipple and smiled, actually smiled her gap toothed grin and we saw shades of that beauty that was hers in life, a beauty a mother like hers would not want to ripen for it would compete with her own. Our tears for her were profuse and the dawn came and we scattered in the cool morning mist which blankets spirits and hides the living from themselves.
The reputation of this child’s mother had tarnished the murderess just as an ornate unpolished piece of silver will become a grotesque thing when left to the air and by the time she left prison, the tarnish of her lies had covered her spell-binding beauty.
Furthermore, it is estimated that the average human being who kills someone will spend approximately 18.5 hours of their waking hours engaging in behaviors of avoidance and purgation.
At first, it seemed our cobbled together baby could not get her mother to see her. The methods of avoidance were strong, warranting a flight from the tropics of the South up to the midwest, several thousand miles away, with plans to travel overseas, but no matter where that mother went, our baby clung to the back of her neck so that every time she looked into a polished mirror in an attempt to improve her visage, her baby looked back at her, over her shoulder, the bloody seams between her arms and shoulders, her head and neck, her fingers and palms screamed out at her. To enflesh her, we had used some of the limited resources at our disposal, even lending her things that would grow back on our own dead bodies, like nails and hair. One old undead guy who hung out with us sometimes said we could have his eyes, ears, tongue, and lips – he’d used them enough for a lifetime and more.
And that slipshod baby, yeah, she stuck with that hateful mama, clung to her neck, loved the life out of her through several of her mama’s disguise and avoidance techniques – her hair changes, the change in lovers, locales, names, weight gain and loss – every possible disguise to mask her identity and guilt from herself, to try to " start over," to hide from people who, initially spellbound by her beauty and youth, were furious with themselves for the blood she put on their hands with her lies.
It was a mess when she got out of jail a year after her trial. And in our world, the baby howl took the top of the world off and the heavens were rift in two and we half expected God to come down and pound the ground with his fist, but He remained silent and watched for when humans sew stupidity what they reap is a diseased crop and they do just about enough damage to themselves anyway. All about us were messages carried by radio waves and satellite transmissions concerning the injustice that had been meted out and there was confusion and mourning and anger but we knew the baby would always love her mother, would always see the violence wrought against her own body as some sort of separate thing from her actual mother, as if her mother’s body had been temporarily inhabited by a monster.
She would love that mother with a love so fierce as to render an exquisite kind of lonely torture on her, becoming a baby, suckling at her teats, caressing her mother’s skin with her broken fingers, clinging to her legs with her deformed limbs. Her mother will try to dance as before, but will find it impossible. She will try to make love to her boyfriends, but will be hindered by a dead baby on her back. Her mother will find it unsexy to have her laugh accompanied by a cackle issuing from her baby’s lips borrowed from an old dead man. The baby will not let her sleep, will hound her for things she would like to have, now: caresses, cuddles, songs, patty cakes, listening ears, attentive eyes, kisses, hugs. She will hound her all day and all night long for the baby that has been loved will go away but the baby who has been killed by her parent’s hand will never be satisfied.
· A message from the League to all men and women who have taken it upon themselves to mother and father children: Need we say it? Yes I guess we must! Take it upon yourselves to do justice to your children, for they are your flesh. We should not have to say this but the morals of our society have turned upside down so that murdering parents are attempting and getting away with murder. If you think you will escape because the courts of the living declare you free, let us warn you that you will have wished you would have shared your child’s fate. Your life will become an unnatural thing, your existence experienced as one might say – as if you were one foot in the grave, for you will literally be with us in your minds and there is no washing that will cleanse the tortured conscience. We exist for the purpose of comforting the slain but in the case of the mother or father who has no conscience, it is our duty, as a justice league, to provide one and provoke it until your death.
BIOGRAPHY: Meg Sefton’s work has appeared in Best New Writing, The Dos Passos Review, Danse Macabre, Corium Magazine, Connotation Press, and other journals. She received her MFA in Fiction from Seattle Pacific University and lives in central Florida with her son and their little white dog "Annie." She sometimes publishes under the Scandinavian pseudonyms Quenby Larsen and Gry Corvin and irregularly blogs her original fiction at Within a Forest Dark