An update about the two ethereal bodies floating in my house, dear strangers.
The first body’s face, looking upward, could be seen through the hole I’d cut in the hallway floor. The second body, looking downward, was mostly hidden directly overhead in the ceiling. Only its ghostly nose protruded.
I Sawzalled a new hole, cutting a wide oval and revealing the second face. It was a woman this time. Like the man below, she was bald and lacked both eyebrows and eyelashes, and even if they hadn’t shared their strange hairlessness, they resembled each other enough to be relatives.
Once the plaster dust settled and my eyes felt clear, I stood on my stepladder, craned back so I could look straight up, and examined the woman’s face.
Her expression was neutral. She stared without blinking and seemed not to notice me, as if she were waiting for something else and wouldn’t react until she saw it. I realized I was blocking her view of the man’s face below and so I climbed down, moved the ladder, and let the two mysterious faces see each other at last.
I stood aside and waited, standing as close to the floor and ceiling holes as possible without obstructing the way. Since the man’s head was recessed a foot below me in the floor, only part of his face was visible to me, but I saw that he immediately stopped mouthing his silent words, and that his expression grew pregnant with emotion. Was it amazement, fear, or hope? His opportunity had come to tell the woman something critical—a secret he had kept and needed to convey.
The woman’s face remained neutral as she stared at the man below. Eventually he mouthed new words, and while I couldn’t interpret his speech from my vantage point, he seemed to talk with urgency and passion. I was glad to have brought the two of them together in their afterlives, and I looked up at the woman, anticipating an expression of peace, epiphany, or marvelous relief from whatever the man was telling her.
I have never seen a more harrowing scream. The woman’s eyes widened and seemed to vibrate. Her nose crinkled at the bridge, and her entire head lengthened as her mouth stretched open. She bared her upper and lower teeth, all the way to her canines and gums. She made no sound. Her mouth was cavernous and grim, like the drain of an old metal slop sink, and her scream had the indrawn intensity of suction.
I felt my own breath being drawn from my body, and I forced myself to look down at the man’s face below. He had stopped mouthing words. His expression was aghast, as if he’d expected a different reaction from the woman he’d addressed. I was reminded of violent offenders apologizing in court, with carefully phrased remorse, and finding not forgiveness but the bloodthirsty, outraged fury of the victims.
I glanced up at the woman’s face in time to see her disappear in a bright scarlet flare. The light warmed my face and left behind a stench of burned insulation. It was glorious to see—a flash of power she had saved and finally unleashed.
I stood above the hole in the floor and looked down. The man’s stricken face stared a while longer, and then he flickered out and vanished like a pitiful illusion.