Now if you’ve never seen Skwerly before you’re missing one crazy looking dude. Each individual strand on his frizzy head stands up like the bride of Frankenstein, and he has these big bulging eyes that seem to stare in two different directions at once. He covers his face with something he calls his beard but which is more like patches of tumbleweed glued on in random locations. Whenever he’s about to snap, and believe me, he’s likely to snap at any moment, one of those eyes (the left one usually) will bounce over to the side and then shoot back into alignment, like something just popped in his brain.
When he came upon my dead body splayed across his dinner table he was wearing his usual attire—a white lab coat overtop a pair of green surgical scrubs. He had a stethoscope slung around his neck and one of those reflective mirrors attached to his forehead. He was barefooted.
“You think you can save him?” Earnestine asked.
Willy stood beside her, shaking his head as if he was the one being asked a question.
Skwerly looked down at my bloated face and frowned. One eyebrow raised high above the other. “This ashhole owe me ten dollah!”
He dropped his black doctor’s bag on my belly, popped it open, and pulled out a foot-long needle that he proceeded to jab repeatedly into my left arm until he located a vein. Something about the concoction that drained from that syringe into my body must have laid the groundwork for what came next—it didn’t bring me back to life all at once, but rather it put my body into a state where it could be made to live again.
After the shot, Skwerly started massaging my heart while Earnestine delivered mouth to mouth resuscitation, Skwerly having not wanted to touch my mouth with his own, and Earnestine only slightly more inclined--Willy beat her in the coin flip.
While Earnestine tried not to gag, Skwerly brought out those jumper cables like you see on the emergency room TV shows. You know what I mean--that little box with a the hot laundry irons attached to wires. The doctor yells, "Clear!" and then all the nurses and everyone step the hell out of the way while he blasts the corpse with about a million watts of electricity. Skwerly’s model isn’t the same kind you see in the hospital though--he literally pieced his together from an old Macintosh computer, a couple of flat irons and an old tractor battery.
I pieced all this together later--I have no actual recollection of my resurrection. I was in a place beyond conscious recognition, where pain and pleasure cease to exist--that great dreamless sleep that we all face sooner or later. At least we used to.
I felt like Frankenstein when I woke up, I was that stiff. All I needed were a couple of bolts sticking out of my neck. Earnestine came in with a can of Colt .45 to celebrate my second coming, but you know it didn’t taste the same as I remembered.
Nothing tastes the same. Everything has a metal taste to it that I don't particularly enjoy. I eventually stopped eating, but not before I gained twenty pounds. Since I can't take a crap anymore (and believe me I've tried), I can’t lose weight. It sucks a big one too because eating gave me such pleasure when I was alive before. Now I don't need anything but a beer every now and then and my formula. That and I have to go in for servicing every six months or three thousand miles, whichever comes first.
And of course there is the shot I have to take every couple of days to ensure my heart keeps pumping oxygen throughout my body. (The Formula I alluded to earlier.) Don’t ask me what’s in it: Skwerly keeps the recipe secret, and like many patients, I don't question doctor’s orders. I just do what I have to do to keep living.
The hard part is keeping to a schedule. Since my first resurrection, I have died again two more times on account of my forgetfulness. In each instance I was lucky that either Willy or Earnestine was there to deliver the emergency shot and subsequent CPR necessary to get me going again.
I don’t need the jumper cables if I haven’t been out too long. Also, Skwerly developed a new method for CPR whereby a plastic tube is inserted into my mouth and air is forced into my lungs via a mechanism derived from parts of an old bicycle pump. That keeps Earnestine from having to slobber all over me and for that she is grateful. Otherwise I think she would have let die three months ago.
Knowing that the next time I stray too far from my friends could be the last time I see this blessed Earth has led me to tattoo a piece of string tied in a bow around my middle finger of my right hand to help me to remember my formula. Now I just have to remember to look at it.
You see, Skwerly’s medicine can’t bring back any old dead person. Your dear old grandmammy, who died last year (or even last week) is clear out of luck if she thinks she can resurrect. At most you only have a window of seven or eight hours in which a dead person can be treated with Skwerly’s formula.
Since my tattoo, I’ve been pretty good about remembering my shot. I carry my gear around everywhere in a leather carrying case like I’m a serious heroin junky, or an old-school diabetic. I need that stuff to live, just as I need Skwerly, and this puts me in something of a bind. You may be shocked to learn that Skwerly is not the most reliable dude I know.
Old Skwerly was always crazy, but he came from what folks down here call “a good family” and there was no denying that old boy’s intelligence. He managed to get himself into med school, only to flunk out, not because of his grades, but because of his increasingly erratic behavior. At one point during his second year he got caught in the middle of the night down in the coroner’s office arranging cadavers as if they were having a tea party. They was all dressed up in suits and flower print dresses, and there was an elegant spread all laid out, complete with a pot of Earl Gray and about a dozen finger sandwiches made with cucumber spread. It is highly unlikely he was expecting any more company than the recently departed; such were the pains he had suffered to formalize the occasion.
Old Skwerly was just a sippin’ from his dainty little porcelain tea cup with the pink flower on it, his pinky extended as a sign of his social upbringing, when a third-year resident burst through the door unexpectedly, just in time to overhear Skwerly remark to the shotgun victim sitting beside him, “Why yes Miss. Hennessey, I am familiar with that Dost-ah-yesky Russian mo fo, but in my opinion The Brothers Caramelo is one big ole pile ‘o melodramatic bullshit and whas more I caint keep up wit all dem damn character’ names. Come on now Mr. Dost-ah-yesky. Pick a damn name and stick to it.”
Surprisingly, this incident was not a factor in Skwerly’s forced removal from school. The guy who caught him having the tea party was an agreeable little guy, always willing to play along with a gag. It seems a bit of gallows humor goes a long way with some of these med school types. Instead of reacting with shock and disgust, he pulled up a chair and poured himself a cup of tea and then started stuffing his face with cucumber sandwiches. In between bites, though, he couldn’t help but notice from the way Skwerly eyed him, that despite being the only other living participant at the tea party, the atmosphere was less than welcoming.
Still, all that was perfectly fine by medical school standards. Hell, I even think they put pictures of the event in the biannual newsletter. What got Skwerly kicked out of med school was when he went crazy and almost killed his attending physician with a scalpel. Apparently they couldn’t agree on what radio station to listen to while performing an operation.
I’m partial to country myself, and not just because I’m named after the great Hank Williams Jr. I actually prefer his father, Hank Sr.’s brand of music, and I’ve always loved the low rumblings of Johnny Cash, especially songs in which he explores the darker side of the human soul. Ironically, I don’t much care for his gospel tunes.
From what I gathered, though, the attending physician was dead set on listening to classical music—I believe it was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy—while Skwerly was adamant about listening to Duran Duran. The attending physician was inflexible (as men in positions of authority tend to be), but Skwerly was straight out bat shit crazy (as those with psychotic personality disorders tend to be), and in the end the doctor crawled out of the operating room trailing blood and missing a piece of his ear. All the nurses and technicians and everyone ran out screaming bloody murder. That left Skwerly alone in the operating room, happily and successfully completing the surgical procedure, all the while singing to himself at the top of his lungs, “I ra-an... I ran so far a-wa-ay... I couldn’t get away.”
He spent thirty days in the loony bin for that one, and the doors of the medical school were closed to him forever. After that, he drifted away from his rich family and he drifted even further away from reality. These days, he makes his living cooking up crank for bottom feeders and ne’er-do-wells and spends his leisure time testing various chemical mixtures on the local squirrel population, many of whom congregate in the woods behind his shack. That coupled with his psychological disability led Earnestine and others to dub him Skwerly. It should go without saying that folks around here don’t spell too good.
In addition to yours truly, Skwerly can also be credited with creating a race of zombie squirrels from whence he derives great pleasure. First he kills them by taking pot shots off the front porch with his bee bee gun. Then he brings them back with the Formula, nurses them back to health, and then cultivates their misplaced sense of gratitude and loyalty. “Thas right little squirrel,” he will say while feeding them a bite of bread. “I am yo daddy now. I think I will call you Ricky.”
The other squirrels don’t want anything to do with Skwerly’s zombies, and those mutant rodents have since taken over the yard, often bullying the normals out of their nuts. Skwerly seems to enjoy spreading anarchy to human and varmint society alike. “Thas it young fellers," he will say. "Don’t you let dem utter squirrels take yo nuts! Them is yo nuts! Them utter squirrels is tryin’ to starve you. Starve yo family!” The deranged cackle that follows such statements can be heard from a mile away. That same cackle was the first sound I heard after he brought me back from the dead, followed closely by his voice.
“Hey Ashhole, Where my ten dollah?”
I’m not exactly sure why he calls me ashhole instead of asshole or why he says dollah instead of dollar, nor can I imagine how, without his family’s money and influence, how he could have possibly been admitted into med school, although the fact of the matter is that he does possess, beneath many layers of ignorant manners and mental illness, a brilliant mind, and he always managed to make his grades in school. I know because I sometimes copied off of his tests in high school. It could be also that he managed to fool his interviewers. Like many southerners, Skwerly maintains the ability to tone down or even change his accent depending on the company he keeps. I’ve known many men to become overly self-conscious of their southern accent when faced with the discerning ears of northerners. I also knew a guy—a white guy—who always spoke like he was raised in the inner city projects, but one day I heard him call his dad and to my astonishment began pouring forth with the most exaggerated country accent I had ever heard. “Hey Deddy. How ya’ll doin’ down yonder?” and so forth.
I was already familiar with Skwerly’s voice and manner on the day I was brought back to life, but I was at a loss about what to make of the situation. The last thing I remembered was having a nice conversation with some business associates when suddenly I felt light-headed and then everything went black. The next thing I know, I’m blinking on Skwerly’s table, I’m covered in dirt, and Skwerly is screaming at me for his money. It was all very discombobulating. Needless to say I paid him the ten dollars.
Some folks think zombies (be they squirrel or human) are an abomination. Some of those same folks think God created man out of a lump of watery sand, and woman out of man’s rib. Is that any less of an abomination? Just because something has appeared for the first time, doesn’t make it unnatural. At one point there were no human beings, but they came about somehow or other, and whether it be from the breath of god or from gradual mutations and adaptations of species over millions of years, either way it’s natural, just like it’s natural that before there was people there weren’t, and doubtless they’ll disappear again in the next few million years or so, and that’s if we’re lucky!
If you ask me just about everything is natural, and that includes artificial flavors. I don’t even think it matters whether or not you buy into the whole science vs. religion craze. Personally I do not believe the two are mutually exclusive. Check this example: Let’s say there is a God, and he formed Adam out of clay and then fashioned Eve out of his rib. That much is certainly in dispute, but what is not in dispute—what neither scientist nor true believer can deny is that somehow or other human beings got their selves a brain—whether it got there by God’s divine intervention or by the luck of natural selection ain’t really the point. The important part is that somehow or other we got ourselves a brain, and since it is there—we can all agree it’s right inside out individual noggins—the best thing to do with it is to use it, hopefully in advance of our cause—whatever cause it may be. Some folks use it to butter bread and others use it to invent microchips, and some feller somewhere used it to invent artificial flavorings, and that’s just as natural as the feller who didn’t do nothin’ but butter bread. Any way you slice it, you’re using what god or the universe gave ya, so either way you slice it, it’s natural.
‘Course, that don’t mean we won’t screw it up. There ain’t no such thing as a guarantee in this life. A few million years before we arrived on the scene, there appeared on this planet the dinosaurs, and just look at what happened to them. Was the appearance of dinosaurs any more of an abomination than their eventual extinction by a comet smashing to earth? Were they any more of an abomination than human beings, who will no doubt, eventually destroy themselves? How can the human race, those who kill torture and rape without reason be exalted above those terrible lizards who were simply trying to get by, get themselves a mouthful of something of something or someone here and there? If you know, please tell me because I am at a loss.
The point of this—and you'll have to excuse me for becoming overly philosophical lately, but trust me I still have a point to make in here somewhere—is that zombies, having been created by human ingenuity, albeit of a mad genius variety—are still every bit as natural as you predeceased individuals, so don’t ya’ll go looking down your noses at me!
Earnestine was beside herself after my resurrection. “You did it!” she screamed, grabbing Skwerly by the shoulders and shaking him violently. “I can’t believe it! I thought I was going to have to bury him in the swamp. You crazy-ass bastard, you brought him back to life.”
“Course I did,” Skwerly said. “I tole you I’d do it, and that’s what I done. Squirrels is no different than people, biologically speaking. Him’n them squirrels out back is 99.997 percent identical in terms of DNA.” He went on in this manner for some time, explaining the science of my resurrection even though we all stopped listening before he finished.
I was still trying to fathom the notion that I had been dead, but now I was alive, and Earnestine was still jumping around the room, whoopin’ and hollerin’ and waving her hat in the air and screaming, “He did it! The crazy son of a bitch did it.” Finally she stopped just for a minute and turned to her mate. “Yo Willy. What do you think?”
Willy just stared at me and scratched his head a few inches above the left ear. He wore a constipated look on his face.
Earnestine swatted him across the chest with her trucker’s hat. “So, how’s he look?”
Willy thought about that for a few moments before he answered. “Still dead.”
Anyway, after everybody got over the shock of seeing my resurrection, we settled in for an impromptu celebration. Earnestine sent Willy out for a case of beer and we tuned the radio to an ‘80s station to appease our own Dr. Frankenstein. Willy came back with Abita and Dixie beer and we had ourselves a high time. I found, to my surprise, that my craving for beer had been depleted some, and I no longer desired any of the hard stuff. Perhaps something in Skwerly’s Formula satisfies that kind of craving, but that first night, I forced myself to get drunk all the same. Old habits die hard.
“So, what are you gonna do now?” Earnestine asked at some point. Of course I thought of my mission. These days I have a budding congregation to think about, but now I had something more pressing on my mind.
“Well,” I said, all serious-like in order to gin up the drama. “Life is short. I found that out the hard way. You got to make every minute of it count.”
“Amen to that,” said Earnestine. “So what choo wanna do?”
I leveled my eyes on hers and then opened up a big smile. “I want to go out and party.”