Ye Shall Not Surely Die

by Pam Jones

Kilpeck_Details_of_Door_Arch
Photo Credit: Simon Garbutt via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Rex Henry Burr and Emmett Anhalt were about to become immortal.

Fame had come to them, at fifty-two and twenty-one, respectively, though they knew as well as anyone that fame dwindled. Fame went out. Fame died, even if you hadn’t.

It was something they realized when the little memorials popped up, the flowers, the teddy bears, the candles, the scriptures and poems marking where the girls were last seen. LaRue Martin, 16, was last seen on Route 2828 in Bandera; Darlene Bohannon, 20, was found on Highway 152; Renata Ansky, 15, told her mother that she would be hitchhiking home along Route 965 near Fredericksburg…and so on.

One afternoon on the road, Rex Henry caught a radio broadcast from LaRue Martin’s high school. He’d whacked Emmett in the arm. “Wake up,” Rex Henry snapped, “they’re doing a memorial service.”

Emmett yawned hugely and sat forward.

They’d got the tail end of it. The Bandera High School choir sang “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. At the close, the principal declared, “Her star will forever shine.”

“Well,” Emmett had breathed that day. “That hymn was a nice touch.”

“It was.”

They’d gone into the post office that day. Rex Henry noted that he needed stamps. “They got those wildlife conservation ones out. If we don’t get them now, we never will.”

They parked.

Emmett put a hand on Rex Henry’s wrist. “Hold on.”

“Now what?”

The radio buzzed, “I Fall in Love Too Easily”.

“I love this song,” Emmett explained.

Rex Henry rearranged his arm so that the young man could take his hand; he understood. “I like it, too.”

Hands laced, they sat and listened until the last of Chet Baker faded into the airwaves.

Emmett swallowed a few times, then sighed. “All right,” he said, “I’m ready.”

Of course, the poster was the first thing they saw, behind the clerk’s grill. Have you seen these men? Rex Henry “Royal” Burr and Emmett “Little Eminent” Anhalt were last seen driving a gray 1949 Chevrolet Coupe…

Royal Burr let the clerk look at him for a good, long while through the grill. Little Eminent stood behind, rocking on his toes.

Then, with his face against the grill, Royal Burr said, clipped, polite, “One book of stamps, please, ma’am.”

The clerk picked up the phone, scattering tiny scenes of preserved American wildlife.


 

The judge read the verdict. “For the murder of Renata Ansky, I sentence you to be electrocuted until you are dead. For the murder of Darlene Elise Bohannon, I sentence you to be electrocuted until you are dead. For the murder of LaRue Camille Martin, I sentence you to be electrocuted until you are dead.”


 

Emmett wondered if the police had found their treasures, hidden in the linings of the Chevy’s seats. Teeth, mostly, though he favored toes. Neither he nor Rex Henry could quite explain why they kept these tokens, not to the law or to each other.

Something Rex Henry had said a while ago, before they went into the post office, rattled in Emmett’s head as the months counted down. He’d said, “I used to be a Catholic.”

“Were you?” Emmet asked.

“When I was, oh, twelve or so, my dad took me on a retreat up north. This place we were at, in the chapel, there was a glass case, just a little out of sight. It was only at this place for a short while, and we were real lucky to get to see it. What do you think was in it?”

“What?”

“An arm. The whole hand to about here—“ Rex Henry tapped his elbow.

“Whose was it?”

“Saint…Edgar. Elgar. I don’t recall. This place had other stuff, too. Some hair. A finger.”

It began to make sense.

Emmett had said then, “I used to collect baseball cards. I had a whole album. I guess it’s kind of like that.” He’d made a line of the little toes, tucking them one by one into the headrest of the passenger’s seat. They might have stayed there forever, and no one would have known whom they belonged to. The relics of Saint LaRue, Saint Darlene, Saint Renata.


 

The warden asked what their plans were. “For afterward. Have you any relatives who’ve made burial arrangements?”

Rex Henry told him No.

Emmett told him No.

“It’s just been me and the boy,” Rex Henry said.

It was a sadder fact than death.

The warden gave them their options. One of them stuck out.


 

The state anatomical board was thrilled. Both Rex Henry and Emmett received letters, signed by four chairmen. “Thank you for your donation”, the letters read. People were buying tickets to see Royal Burr and Little Eminent, students, mostly, from the University and from State. Their skeletons were to be preserved and kept at the Baylor University College of Medicine. The warden brought them this news the month before their debut, and Rex Henry seemed disappointed.

“We’re not some science project,” he growled.

Emmett was a bit more optimistic. “Well, college kids wouldn’t be as squeamish. Because they can think of us as a science project.”

“We’re more than that.”

“I know.”

Though Rex Henry no longer believed, he liked to quote the Psalms. “I shall not die, but live and declare.” He didn’t finish the verse.

Emmett did not really believe, either. He didn’t think anyone ever truly did. It didn’t stop him from tattooing a verse along his right wrist. “Ye shall not surely die.” He couldn’t recall where the verse was from, or who had said it.

He wondered what would happen to the tattoo, afterward.

He kept talking, “Lots of people will come to see us. All kinds of people. We just have to be patient.”

Rex Henry grunted. “Well. I don’t think that’s going to be our burden. Patience.”

Emmett went on, “You know, being a science project, whatever you want to call it, that’s where it starts.”

Rex Henry looked at his hands, squeezing them. In spite of himself, he was perking up.

“Kids write up papers about us,” Emmett murmured, “and then people read those papers. And then those kids go on and tell their friends about us. And those friends tell their friends, I saw those guys, Royal Burr and Little Eminent, and on and on. It’s like that saint you told me about. It’s just exactly like that.” His voice trembled with the thrill of it. He didn’t know when he’d taken such excitement, more so than with the girls they’d picked up. Then he bleated, “It’s like the girls. I think I get it now. Like, I really get it. Everything we did. All of it. I get it.”

It was not impulse.

It was not lust.

It was not wrath, or boredom, or desperation.

People remembered the saints because they had their tokens.

LaRue Martin would never fade into the ether of year after year.

Ye shall not surely die.

Ye shall be as gods.

Emmett Anhalt opened his eyes and when he did, he saw that Rex Henry Burr was crying. He mumbled heavily, all vowels, as though he were underwater.

“What’s that?” Emmett asked.

“I say—“ Rex Henry sniffed, and looked at his partner with great elation, such as Emmett had never seen in the older man’s face. “I say—I can’t wait. I can’t hardly wait. They’re all going to come and see us. And they’ll talk about us forever?”

Emmett nodded, confirming, “Forever.”

Outside, Rex Henry and Emmett were all the newspapers, the magazines, the folks in line at the post office could talk about.


 

In his office, the warden got off the phone with the appeals court. Unsurprisingly, no stay had been issued and they could proceed. He sighed and noted by his wristwatch that it was a quarter to six.

“It’d be better if we’d hang them.”

“Hm?” He hadn’t realized he’d said it aloud until his secretary appeared beside his desk. “Is it more humane? Compared to Old Sparky?”

“I wasn’t thinking about that—“ The warden caught sight of the newspaper lapping open across the coffee table across his office. The headline read, Baylor campus overflowing as students await donated bodies of Royal Burr and Little Eminent. “If we did less of this—“ he waved at the paper—“—we wouldn’t have any Royal Burrs in this world.”

His secretary raised an eyebrow. “You think so?”

“Well, sure. They got what they really wanted. And we gave it to them. It’s a screwy kind of martyrdom—not that all martyrdom isn’t screwy. But–” The warden paused and flexed his wrist. Five to six. “Anyway. It’s time they made their debut. Their devotees will be thrilled.” He slid into his jacket and made a slow march from his office, as though it were his own demise he were rowing toward.

His secretary blushed and turned back to her typewriter; she didn’t mention that her husband was in line at Baylor that moment to buy tickets.

 

 

Pam Jones lives and writes in Austin, Texas. She studied creative writing at Hampshire College, and is the author of the novella, The Biggest Little Bird.

Twitter: @PanimalJones
Instagram: @PanimalJones

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