Episode Sponsor– Mothmen 1966
The secret’s out on this week’s Drabblecast, and nothing will ever be the same. We bring you an original Drabblecast story called “A Hymn Upon the Lips of the Dead,” by Mav Lux.
Oh and Norm sings us a song about singing that he should have just told you. Enjoy!
I was with her when she died. Underneath that frail shell of pallid, papery skin and tubes coiling into her body she was still my mother. Her last sound should have been the steady trickle of the morphine drip and a low, long death rattle. She died at 3:28 am. At 3:29 am her mouth opened and she began to sing…
A Hymn Upon the Lips of the Dead
by Mav Lux
I was with her when she died. Underneath that frail shell of pallid, papery skin and tubes coiling into her body she was still my mother. Her last sound should have been the steady trickle of the morphine drip and a low, long death rattle. She died at 3:28 am. At 3:29 am her mouth opened and she began to sing.
We skipped the funeral. She didn’t cease singing even when they closed the coffin lid and put her in the ground. The soil vibrated with her dirge. There are songs that you never forget from your formative years; the songs you fall in love to, the songs that you fuck to, the songs that burrow into your soul and open a wound that can’t be closed. My mother’s hollow song swallowed those others up, and made me forget every lyric that had ever meant anything to me. Left me as empty as the shell of her body the night she died. I could feel her voice inside me and I wanted to strip the skin from my body and take a hammer to each of my bones until they were so broken they could no longer ring with that melody.
After I left the gravesite I went to my usual haunt, Porter’s. It was full of obnoxiously drunk senators and their mistresses and smelled of expensive perfume and more expensive sex. Exactly what I needed. Shitty pop music played on the jukebox at a deafening volume, music I would have hated on any other night, but tonight it was perfect.
An empty corner table and three shots of bourbon later I was feeling just warm and stupid enough to call Deborah. It went to voicemail immediately and I disconnected without leaving a message. I downed one more shot for the road, paid my tab, and stumbled out the door. The stars were veiled behind low gray clouds and a lazy rain that misted up my glasses, blurring my vision further. I made it home and collapsed into bed.
I awoke to my phone vibrating.
“Someone from the hospital recorded her,” my brother said. “Uploaded the whole thing to Youtube.”
“Fuck.” A rude awakening if there ever was one. “Meet me at Porter’s.”
“I sent a DMCA takedown notice,” my brother told me over a beer. “Not sure it will do any good.”
“How clear was the audio?”
“Clear enough to hear every word.”
“Shit.” My phone was blowing up with texts and calls from Deb. I thumbed the power button. “Dare I ask how many hits?”
“You don’t want to know.”
He took a shot and swallowed hard. “Two million and climbing.”
Her death should have been a weight off my shoulders.
“I mean, they can’t arrest you, right?” he asked.
“Sure, they can.”
“But it won’t stick. The testimony of a dead woman can’t possibly be admissible in court. Besides,” he said. “All that shit she’s saying… It’s not true.”
He didn’t phrase it like a question, but I knew that it was. He stared through me with cold silver eyes of our mother. “Right, David?”
I said nothing.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter? Jesus, I can barely look at you, man.”
“You’ve only heard one side of the story.”
“We need to get you out of the city. Let’s go up to the cabin. We can figure shit out from up there.”
“I can’t. I have to be on the senate floor for an oversight hearing in two hours.”
“That doesn’t matter anymore. Go home. Pack and meet at my place.”
I walked into my house to find Deborah lazing on the couch puffing at a cigarette, the prettiest picture of patience. I knew her better than anyone, and wrapped up in all that beauty was a woman that got off on a perverse need to wreck my life, even three years after our divorce. I was sure I had locked the door, but she played her part of slimy DA well and had probably picked the lock.
“You stupid fuck,” she said. “You dumb motherfucker.”
“I don’t have time for your shit, Deb.”
“You’ve got time,” she said.
That’s when I saw the pistol in her hand. The same one I had purchased for her back when she was trying the DeFalco case in ‘97. She had said carrying it made her feel safe. Even after DeFalco had sucked down a lethal cocktail in a very public execution she had continued to carry it with her.
“If you think I’d show my face around here without this, you’re fucking crazy,” she said.
“What the fuck, Deb-”
“I am not going down with you for this.”
“You’re going to have to give me a little more to go on.”
“Your dead mother said my name, David!”
“Shit. I had no idea.”
“Of course you didn’t. Spotless as a fucking lamb, as always, David. Dumb as fucking goat to boot.”
“Put that gun away and get out.”
“Have you even watched the video?”
“I was there. I heard it.”
I made a beeline for my bedroom. She followed as I grabbed a suitcase and shoved clothes into it.
“Where are you going?” Deborah asked.
“This is what you always do. You run away. I expect your brother is going with you?”
I didn’t bother lying to her. She knew me too well.
“You need to deal with this.”
“I’ll figure it out from there.”
“No, you’ll get drunk and pass out, and your brother will get another DUI. All while I’m stuck down here covering for your ass again.”
I flashed her the old dopey mea culpa grin that she used to have trouble resisting. That was a long time ago. She raised the gun to my head.
“And what if I don’t bail your ass out this time? Hell, I’m not even sure it’s possible.”
I pushed past Deborah, back down the hall.
“Come with me then,” I said. “We’ll go up together. We can figure this out.”
Her lips parted to say something, what I hoped would be a yes, but then there was a pounding at the door. Detective Waterson was waiting on the other side when I opened it. Deborah scrambled out of sight, and there I stood, looking guilty as hell, with my suitcase. Might as well have been holding my dick in my hands.
“Senator,” he said. “I need you to come with me.”
I had no choice and saw no reason to argue with the man. I was between two people who hated me for very different reasons and each of them armed. He was the last person whose bad side I wanted to be on.
“How’s Deborah?” he asked, as he drove me to the station.
“I should be asking you the same thing.”
“Hey, she fucked us both over. We both lost.”
“Yeah, but she was my wife,” I said.
“That’s the problem with the way we think. She was never ours to begin with,” he said. “It took losing her to make me realize that. It’s the opposite of everything I was told growing up. I would imagine it’s the same for you.”
“Spare me,” I said.
But I knew he was right. I had never understood what Deb saw in that slimy fuck. He was a detective straight out of a Thursday night police procedural. Tall and gangling, short cropped hair, and a shitty fucking copstache. Deborah hated facial hair, so her leaving me for him never made any sense. The truth is it was just too painful to dig into the reasons why.
Waterson was courteous enough to take me through the back entrance so nobody saw us. He dropped me off at his office and returned a moment later with a cup of coffee that tasted like a mouthful of dirt.
“First, this is off the record. Second, all of our history–” he paused and chose his words carefully. “I want to leave that in the past. I know you won’t believe me but I’m on your side. I don’t believe what I’ve seen or heard in that video. Special effects are cheap these days,” he said. “My nephew is a wiz at ’em. Shoots his own movies and does all his own effects. Looks real to my old eyes. A regular Harryhausen. And don’t even get me started on that deepfakes shit. But I do have some questions for you. Your mother died on September 29th?”
“I would say I’m sorry for your loss, but from what Deb told me…” He realized what he was saying and stammered an apology.
“You left the hospital pretty quick after she died.”
Another non-question. He was good at that. I took a sip of coffee. It burned all the way down to my jackhammering heart.
“I was grieving.”
“Where’d you go?”
“Can’t blame you.” He nodded an understanding. “Which one?”
“Porter’s on Fifth. I’m a regular. You can ask. They know me.”
“I hate to ask this, but… before you left, after your mother died… did you see anything?”
The fluorescent lights above us buzzed noisily, like flies that couldn’t be swatted away.
“You’re asking if I saw my mother come back to life?”
He shook his head before finally asking, “I know it sounds crazy, but I have to ask. Did she sing?”
I was sure he could hear the whine of hot blood pumping through my veins.
“No,” I said. “Whatever that video shows, I wasn’t there for it.”
“Great. I want to get ahead of this before it spins out of control. And it will. Do you or your family have any enemies? Anyone with something against you that would make a video like this?”
“I’m in politics. I have more enemies than friends.”
“Okay. I’m not going to hold you here, but I’ll be in touch. I strongly advise you to not leave the county.”
Waterson was kind enough to drive me home. By the time we got to my street there were half a dozen news vans parked outside.
“Fuck. Take me to Deb’s,” I said.
“Really?” He couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice.
He dropped me off at her apartment. Deborah opened the door before I even reached it. The gun was still firmly in her hand.
“Turn around,” she said. “Go to the car.”
I complied. After sixteen years of marriage I knew it was wise to do as she said when her face was that particular shade of red and her curls were that frazzled, nevermind the fucking gun.
“You saw Waterson,” she said.
“He doesn’t know what I know.”
She pushed me into the passenger seat of her Escalade.
“What do you know?” I asked.
She started the engine and drove.
“You know what,” I said. “My offer still stands. Let’s get out of here. We don’t need to go to the cabin, we don’t even need to tell my brother. I can get us out of the country. We can board a plane and go somewhere tropical, like we always talked about. Start over.”
Starting over meant one of us would have to admit we fucked up. The inability to admit that either of us were ever wrong is what had killed our marriage in the first place. But now I knew that I was maybe just a little more wrong than she was. I knew it because I had dragged her into the whole mess of my life. I had made her complicit and the world would soon find out.
“David, they’re exhuming her body in the morning. They’re going to press charges. My boss called to warn me as a professional courtesy. It’s all over.”
“They don’t have anything–”
“Don’t be a fucking idiot. You know how this works, how little they need.”
She was right. I knew. She stopped the car. We had arrived.
“Get out of the car,” Deborah said.
I got out. “Stop pointing the gun at me.”
She re-leveled it at my chest, as if to say fuck you, and walked to the back of the vehicle, opening the trunk.
“Grab it,” she said.
The contents of the trunk told me I wouldn’t be going up to the cabin after all. Somehow I felt relieved at the prospect. I picked up the shovel. Deborah pressed the pistol to the small of my back and we walked into the copse of trees that led into the woods. She wasn’t dressed for a hike, still wearing her dark political power suit and Gucci Sylvie pumps. Thick tresses of branches grasped at us as we walked deeper into the woods. She tripped on a half-hidden tree root and reached for my arm to steady herself. Upon her touch I expected old feelings to rise up, but the cold metal of the gun made sure they stayed firmly in the past.
“You’re a real pro, Deb.”
“Fuck you. Keep walking,” she said.
After a quarter mile of slow trudging I started to believe my own sick inkling about where we were headed. A low drone whispering through the dirty leaves on the ground had been warning me, and the closer we got the clearer I heard it. The tiny bones in my ears ached at the sound; the buzzing of ten thousand black flies, vying for the best pickings of split flesh.
“So what are we going to do when we get there?” I knew the answer, but part of me hoped that the old Deb was in there somewhere and she would take pity and lie to me.
“Whatever it takes,” New Deb said.
“They’ll be treating it like a crime scene. They’re not going to just let us in.”
“I took care of it.”
True to her word we were alone when we reached the cemetery. I dropped the shovel and knelt down. Put my ear to the fresh, wet earth and listened. If I had ever wondered what the apocalypse sounded like, this was it. The chill sound of a flat voice creeping through the veins of the earth until it reached into my skull. I opened my mouth, filling it with foul earth and the question of how it might taste to ask Deborah to pull the trigger, to let my blood answer my mother’s call.
“Get up and start digging,” Deborah said.
She pressed the nose of the gun against the back of my head. I cursed and struck the spade into the soft dirt.
“Drop the gun, Deb.” Detective Waterson had joined our throng. Then to me: “David, keep digging, I’m not here to stop you.”
“Why the fuck are you here?” Deb asked.
“There are reports on the news,” he said. “A woman died in Wisconsin today and started to sing. Two more after that, one in Arizona and one in Ohio. If that’s true then this isn’t a hoax and it’s not just an anomaly. I came to hear it for myself.”
“And once you’ve heard it?” Deborah asked.
“If it’s true… I haven’t thought that far ahead. I don’t live in a world where it can be true.”
With each shovelful of dirt the song grew louder. Halfway to six feet I wanted to snatch Deborah’s gun and do the deed myself to make it all stop. I kept digging. Eyeing the two guns pointing in my direction.
I didn’t know how long it took before I hit the casket. My brain felt like an anchor in my skull and every muscle cried out for relief. I pried open the lid to the coffin and the crescendo hit me with its full force. I covered my ears and stumbled back. My mother was inside the coffin singing her dead little heart out.
Whatever Deb or Waterson had planned once we made it this far was now lost upon me. There was no need to search for a radio or speaker. My mother’s swollen lips parted, the sinews of her jaw tearing as a cluster of insects and worms ruptured forth from the shreds of her mouth. She sang a lament that birthed fresh hate and secret sins into the world.
I heard Deborah whimper. “I’m not going away for this,” she said. I looked up in time to see her put the barrel to her temple and squeeze the trigger. The thick crack of gunshot couldn’t drown out my mother’s dark canticle. Bits of Deborah’s skull and gray matter fell into the grave with me and before her body hit the ground Deborah’s voice had joined in my mother’s ill chorus.
“Shut them up, goddamnit!” Waterson screamed down to me.
I grabbed the shovel and stabbed it into my mother’s neck, but her chant still snaked out through the shattered windpipe. I scrambled out of the grave and past Waterson sobbing and cradling Deb. I couldn’t be sure, but in due time she would be singing his own dark secrets, ending his life one verse at a time. He looked up to me and opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
Finally, he asked, “Is it true?” For a long moment the only sound was their dead voices ringing hot in the chill night air. “Are they telling the truth?”
“Does it really matter anymore?”
I could see it in his eyes. His pupils were infinite black holes that sucked in the old world and shat out the truth of this frightening new world. If their dead bodies gave up our secrets, we were all fucked. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But the day would come when our wickedness and transgressions would loose from the rotting mouths of our mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and lovers. The world we knew had ended not with a bang but a hymn.