Lust to Dust
I died on a warm August morning.
Took the coronary people six days to find me keeled over in the backyard, all moldered up and decayed, the crows having pecked out my eyes. Unceremoniously, I was hauled from the premises in a black thing that vaguely resembled a garbage bag, the flies dancing around, desperate to infiltrate. My wife was out of town, in case you were wondering. I’d like to think she would’ve noticed my absence had she been home; but I doubt it.
Honestly, with how the past two years have gone, things would’ve probably played out the same. She’d flit around the house, head in a dream, singing softly to herself, playing games on her phone, or maybe texting him, her brotherly coworker. The whole “he’s like a brother to me” part is her shtick. My opinion holds a bit different.
Brothers don’t typically drape their arms over their sisters’ shoulders like that, or lean that close to whisper into their sisters’ ears. Brothers don’t typically undress their sisters with long, lingering glances. And he does. I’ve seen him.
Oh yeah—and a brother doesn’t typically poison his sister’s husband by slipping arsenic into his morning tea. That was a lovely surprise. The day after Tanya left on business, he showed up on my doorstep, looking like a lost puppy. Said he’d had a fight with his girlfriend and thought maybe I could give him some advice. So, having nothing better to do on my day off, I invited him inside to share my breakfast. That was my first and last mistake.
He must’ve spiked it when I got up to get more napkins. How anticlimactic can you get?
And now I get the pleasure of watching their story continue without me. Yes, watching. I may have died but I didn’t go very far. Reverse the old adage and you have it: “Forgotten, but not gone.” Devoted as my dear spouse was, it took her a whole day to move on. And then she was off to find comfort in the arms of who else—Ted McGhee, her brotherly coworker. The pretense kinda’ dropped after I left the picture. She stopped calling him her brother and started calling him all the things she used to call me.
They were married three weeks later. By then I’d learned a neat trick. If you concentrate hard enough you can move stuff as a ghost. It’s a dimensional thing, popularized by TV and apparently applicable here. So I started following them, knocking stuff off the tables. I’m a pest like that.
Ted always prided himself for his machismo, or whatever you call it. I learned very quickly that it was all a facade. A few moving pieces of furniture captured by our glitchy old security cam and he was out of his mind. Tanya was the one having to comfort him, and I could tell the luster was already fading. The thing about people like Ted: they’re good at pretending, but give them something real, any taste of conflict or fear, and they fall apart. I downed a lamp and he dove for cover behind the couch; first making sure nobody was around to see.
I didn’t consider it revenge so much as entertainment. I was bored and lonely—predisposed to both in life, but they were even less tolerable in death. My mind began playing with the question why. Why was I still here? What had kept me from crossing over? I wasn’t the one in the wrong. And my heart wasn’t really revenge-bent, as one might’ve assumed. If Tanya wanted this guy, who was I to stop her. I knew more about him than she did. And I knew them both enough to know that they deserved each other.
The answer arrived on a warm August morning, almost a year after my passing. Ted wasn’t feeling so hot, so he’d taken off. Tanya was away and he was alone in the house. I overheard him on the phone with someone, and I could hardly process what followed.
“Yeah, she’ll be out of the picture real soon. I just gotta’ work a few things out. The spark’s gone. There’s nothin’ in it for me anymore. Plus Tanya’s old hubby was worth a small fortune. Get her dead and we’ll have enough to spring for a royal-tier wedding. We can retire nice and comfy in the Bahamas, just like you wanted.”
A million thoughts pounded in my skull. Not only was this two-bit hustler looking to kill my wife—well, I guess ex-wife—but he was talking to this ‘other woman’ like they’d been seeing each other for months. I couldn’t help but wonder how long he’d been planning this. Probably since the day he and Tanya tied the knot.
By the time Tanya got home, Ted had a nice candle-lit dinner ready and waiting.
“What’s the occasion?” she asked, red smile stretching, bouncing on her heel with that adorable enthusiasm I used to love.
I knew then that I couldn’t let this monster kill her. She wasn’t mine anymore. But she didn’t deserve to be his.
So when he offered up her tea, I promptly knocked it over. She let a frightened squeak, and he nearly jumped out of his socks as per usual. Upon recovery, he went to get her a refill. I prepared myself for round two. It was going to be a long night.
Seven refills came and went before Ted got fed up. Angrily, he flipped the table so hard and high that it struck the window. Noticing the gaping hole it left in the glass, an idea crossed his eyes. He grabbed a steak-knife off the floor and lunged at Tanya. I knew then that he was going to stage it and make it look like a breakin.
Tanya was small-framed and fragile. She didn’t stand a chance. And that was what dogged me most about cowards like Ted: they only preyed on the weaker. He would’ve never tried a thing like that with me.
Gathering all my concentration, I sent a vase crashing into the wall. It missed Ted by a hair. I figured if I could incapacitate him, maybe that would give Tanya a chance to run. I hadn’t even bothered to look what vase I’d grabbed. Imagine my surprise when my own cremated ashes puffed everywhere, like a smoke bomb in a riot. They blinded Ted, and he staggered around, refusing to relinquish his grip on the knife. By the time the ashes cleared, Tanya was already out the door and running up the street. Ted made a break after her, but he failed to account for our elevated threshold, and tripped out the front door, landing facedown on the porch. When he rolled over, I saw the knife had stuck in him, and blood climbed thickly from both sides of his mouth. As he died, it was almost as if our perceptions brushed for a moment, him staring directly into my eyes and me staring back ever-so-calmly.
“It was kill or be killed...” he muttered in delirium, in what was the most unconvincing excuse I’d ever heard.
That’s what I call a twofer’ one then, I wanted to retort. But I maintained my class and upheld my silence. No need to lower myself. He already knew that he’d lost.
The life left him, and there I stayed, stranded on the porch against a world that I was no longer any part of. I’d helped save Tanya, but I was still here. Nothing had changed.
And then I saw it, a light in the distance, so radiant it couldn't be natural. I ran toward it the fastest I could manage, and as I collided with it all became new. I saw a great many instances, the proverbial life flashing before my eyes; and it all ended with Tanya hunched over, panting and tearful at the end of our street, and a half-muffled “thank you” stirred off with the wind.
Note: This is strictly fiction as I do not believe in ghosts, nor do I condone fighting with cremated ashes, not even your own. Peace. :3
#fiction, #strictlyfiction, #donttrythisathome
So Let the Haunting Begin
No one ever thinks they’re going to die at 34.
When you’re a kid, you’re so far removed from the prospect of death that you actually spend a lot of your precious time on this Earth wishing you were older, effectively wishing you were closer to dying. But of course, you don’t think about it that way. You’re more interested in getting to do what you want, like eating candy for every meal, not realizing that grown-ups want candy all the time too. It’s just that they’ve learned eating too much of it might end up killing them sooner than they’d like, and usually the desire to live longer wins over Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, even as fucking delicious as they are.
Then when you’re in your teens and early twenties, you spend most of your time thinking you’re invincible, willingly putting yourself into dangerous situations that you look back on and think, “How did I not die?” Like that time on my 21st birthday when I wandered the streets of the East Village drunk and barefoot at 2:00 AM. Somehow, I managed not to contract tetanus or get murdered.
Instead, I got murdered taking a jog in the ’burbs at 4:30 in the afternoon while listening to a Brené Brown podcast. Go figure.
To add insult to injury, being a ghost isn’t nearly as fun as I thought it would be. For starters, the whole reason I’m still stuck on Earth is because I have something I need to do before I can go to the next place. Somehow, I’ve died and still have a job. Can’t I just float on a cloud and chill with my new best ghost friends? (Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, obviously).
I’m kidding – well, kind of – but dying is terrible enough without the added misery of knowing that another human being is directly responsible for your death. And then there’s the shock of it all too. In the beginning, nobody understands that they’re dead. One minute, I was listening to Brené tell me that vulnerability is the only way to experience true human connection, and the next, I was looking down at my lifeless body. Blood trickling from a deep open wound in my temple and onto the Airpod that was still somehow in my ear, all the while Brené ’s subtle Southern twang continued to buzz away in the speaker.
Life continued on around me as if I’d never been there at all.
And I didn’t remember my final moments until later – the fact that a leggy blonde woman in Lululemon gleefully bashed my head in with a rock – so my first thought was that this was just a terrible dream. I tried my usual tricks to wake myself up – a slap or two in the face, bouts of screaming “this is not real!” – but they did nothing. Then I thought the only rational explanation was that I’d had some sort of mental break. Surely, this surreal moment could be explained by brain trauma, and my out-of-body experience would end just as soon as I came to. It’d be a wild story I’d tell my therapist later.
Only I never did come to. I just lay there, unmoving, my lips slowly turning a chilling shade of blue, until Dan found me himself a few hours later and the paramedics took my body away. I’ll never forget the look on his face as they covered mine with a sheet. And even now, I sometimes can’t help but think how the last words I said to my loving husband and sweet little dog were a lie.
I told them I’d be right back.
I’ve had a year to digest my feelings with the help of the afterlife review process. I can’t give you too many details because you’re supposed to discover this when it’s your own time, so you’ll have to settle for the cliff notes for now.
After you die and you’ve actually realized it, you then move on to an in-between place. This place will be somewhere that instantly soothes you. For me, it was a field full of lavender where the plants rustling in the wind sounded like rolling ocean waves, and the air smelled like all of my favorite memories at once – my trips to Ireland with Dan, summer nights as a teen driving around with my friends and singing at the top of our lungs and Christmas mornings with my family.
They do it so you’re in the best possible frame of mind to watch your whole life played back to you from start to finish. Every kind thing you did, every cruel thing you did and how it all affected the people around you. Sometimes, you just changed their outlook for a few minutes or maybe a day. But other times, you changed the entire trajectory of someone’s life.
Needless to say, it’s some heavy shit.
The hardest part of the afterlife review was when it came to my last day. It was only then that I saw the leggy blonde in detail for the first time and learned more about who she is. When she emerged from the tree line as I rounded the corner, I’d only caught a glimpse of her fake dyed hair and overly tanned limbs in my periphery before she whacked me in the head and it was all over. It happened so fast that it seemed unfair. After the generally good life I’d lived, didn’t I at least deserve a few minutes of dramatic struggle?
Eventually, I learned her name was Kristen, and that she’d known my husband back in high school. (And when I say known, I mean she had an aching, unrequited love for him.) I watched on heavenly replay as she stalked Dan and me for months before that day, learning our schedules down to the minute, until she finally made her move. She killed me with a smile on her face, and worst of all, I now had to look on while she tried to worm her way back into his life – from compassionate old friend to new lover.
I have to laugh that it only took me dying to solve the mystery of my own murder.
Dan is too blinded by his loneliness and grief to see Kristen for who she really is, and the local police are either too lazy or too dumb to recognize a murder from a freak accident. They said I simply lost my footing due to some erosion on the trail and hit my head in just the right spot to kill me instantly while I tumbled toward the riverbank below. I don’t know. Maybe they just didn’t want the death of a young-ish white lady to go unexplained for too long. The media always loves a good dead white woman story, everyone else be damned.
Despite all this, I won’t call my killer a monster because I’ve already learned in this year how to forgive her. I’ve seen her struggle through life, betrayed by the people she trusted the most, and how she slowly hardened into the type of person she is today. But while I can forgive her, that doesn’t mean I will excuse her, nor will I condemn my husband and dog to a life with a woman who could not be more undeserving of their love. This would be the last thing I’d do on Earth. And even if it was a hard job, particularly with the promise of unending bliss looming so close on my horizon, I knew I needed to do it. And I wanted to do it, as my final gift to the loves of my life.
So, let the haunting begin.
I sit in the living room of the home I once shared with Dan. It’s a lazy Sunday morning and Nessie snores loudly on the couch as all good French Bulldogs do, while he sips a cup of coffee and scrolls through Reddit on his phone, wearing the soft joggers I gave him for Christmas last year. I wonder if he feels my presence beside him. It’s torture not being able to touch, but I learned if I focus my energy, I can give him a chill. I wish I could do something that would make him feel warm, but I’m glad to be somehow tangible all the same. I continue to hope that when the time comes, I’ll be able to make him feel everything he needs to.
He shivers and looks to his side briefly. “I’m right here,” I say. But he just cracks his neck and looks through me, wistfully staring out the window. Just then, his phone buzzes, and he reads a text from her.
“I’m downtown at Night Kitchen Bakery. You in the mood for some sticky buns? ;-)”
I grumble at that fucking suggestive winky-face emoji. I find her flirting pathetic. And yes, I know I’m supposed to be enlightened now, but just because I’m capable of greater empathy as a ghost doesn’t mean I have to like the woman. After all, she did murder me.
He pauses before answering. He’s already eaten his usual morning banana, but a sticky bun sounds much more appetizing. And she’s been okay, hasn’t she? Sure, she was a little overbearing at first, what with the flowers and the teddy bears and endless casseroles after the funeral, but it was better to care too much than not at all, right? Plus, she’d made him laugh now and again, more so at the absurdity of her try-hard jokes than the jokes actually being funny, but he can’t remember the last time someone made him laugh besides me. So, he texts her back.
“Sure. I’m always up for some stickity-bickity buns.”
I shake my head and laugh, remembering what a loveable weirdo he was and is. It’s a wonder why she’s still into him when he sends texts like that.
Fifteen minutes later, her Jeep pulls down my driveway. I’m floating outside the driver’s side window and watch as she diligently checks her makeup. She’s trying to give the appearance of being natural – donning head-to-toe “athleisure” wear – but I know the amount of time she spends on that face. I’ve watched her in my downstairs bathroom before. Each time, dumping her purse of sprays and lotions and stains into the sink and carefully reapplying each one before returning to Dan and saying something like, “I look like I just rolled out of bed.” Always fishing for compliments and desperately trying to cover the cracks in the mask she wears each day.
She knocks on the back door, and Nessie eagerly runs to greet her. Nessie’s never met a human she hasn’t liked, but just this once, I wish she had more discerning taste. The truth is, she’d happily lick Hitler’s hand if he extended it, so I try not to be too offended.
Next is Dan. She gives him a hug and they exchange a brief kiss. I used to look away in these moments, but now I focus all my energy toward her lips. I try to make them as cold and dry as possible, and like to think that’s why their kisses never seem to last very long.
Today I focus extra hard. Dan jumps back, clutching his bottom lip.
“You shocked me!” he says, and they chuckle. I chuckle too, because I know that today’s the day.
I’ve been steadily working on him for months now, using all my energy to nudge him back toward the trail. He hasn’t stepped foot on it since I died, so I’ve been hoping for a two-for-one deal. I’ll remind him how much he loved running – how it made him feel boundless, like anything was possible – and also help him see the truth of what she’d done, so that he can be free to live the life I wanted for him; the one that he deserved.
I did this in subtle ways, of course, as my being a ghost had been frustratingly limiting for most of my time back among the living. I spent one whole day just staring at his running shoe in the closet until it finally fell and clunked against the door, pushing it slightly open. The noise scared him half-to-death – he always hated loud sounds – but when he saw the shoe lying there, he couldn’t help but remember all the times we’d run together. In different states and in different seasons, sometimes struggling and other times gliding with ease, but always together. And that day, he put his shoes on for the first time since I’d gone. He made it down the driveway before he collapsed to the ground and sobbed loudly for the whole neighborhood to hear. It hurt so much to see him like that, but I knew this was progress and that we had to keep going.
Later, I’d discovered that if I “held” his hand or laid my head against his shoulder, I could influence him in certain ways – like the time I sat beside him in the car. I rested my hand atop his while it gripped the stick shift and within seconds, he made a sudden turn, heading in the direction of the running trail. Soon, he arrived at the trailhead without knowing how – like a kind of highway hypnosis – but parked and sat at the entrance for a while, letting memories of me wash over him like a gentle tide. He cried tears of sadness and joy that day. That night, he was untroubled and slept soundly.
I’d set the stage with these small, fleeting moments, and now it was time to nudge Kristen in the right direction too. This would be more challenging because her walls were hard and high, but I was ready for the task. I’d been taking inventory of all the times she was at her most vulnerable, when her true self shined through the veneer and you caught a glimpse at all the rage she kept bottled inside.
Recently, there was a night that I found her in my house, yet again, when Dan ventured to the kitchen to make them drinks. She asked him for a Cosmo, which, in my opinion, should have been glaring evidence of her depravity, but Dan didn’t seem to mind. As she sat alone, smoothing her hair and checking her teeth in her iPhone, Nessie jumped on her lap and started vigorously licking her face (as she is wont to do) – making quick work of destroying her meticulous makeup. Almost immediately, she violently pushed Nessie off her as if she had bitten her nose, and my poor dog landed on her back upon the hardwood floor. Luckily, I’d dived to catch her out of instinct, despite my lack of a body, and somehow my energy created an imperceptible pillow of air that softened her fall. She was bruised, but not badly hurt, and retreated to her crate.
In that moment, I broke open. I turned to Kristen and screamed so loudly in her face that her nose began to bleed. I surprised myself, and naturally, she was mortified. She left early without a goodbye, and Dan poured her Cosmo down the drain as I danced in circles around the living room.
Today, however, she’d returned with a mission. She decided that she would not leave until Dan had deemed their relationship “official.” And here I thought I would have to push them both in the direction of the trail, but I underestimated her nerve. She willingly broached the subject on her own. Placing her hand on his knee, she said, “Dan, I think it’s time we take a jog.”
He knew her meaning and wavered. In his mind, it seemed both a betrayal to me and something that he’d been desperately longing for. Unsure if he wanted to go there to remember me, to wallow or just to feel human again, he decided he had to try. I dealt with brief feelings of jealousy that she was somehow able to convince him to go when I could not, but I quickly realized that I had helped get him to this point. So, when he finally nodded in agreement, I let myself feel proud.
Of course, she was already wearing fancy sneakers to go with the rest of her outfit – I wondered how many pairs of leggings this woman owned – so she sat back anxiously, watching as Dan laced up his. He set the home security alarm and before closing the back door and turned to Nessie. “I’ll be right back, sweet girl,” he told her, and my see-through heart skipped a beat.
As they made their way down the street, they found themselves unable to fall into a rhythm. Dan and I could easily match our steps once we got going, but Kristen seemed to clomp along unevenly, no match for Dan’s skilled stride.
“Do you want me to ease up?” he called, as she fell slightly behind.
“No, I’m fine! Just warming up.” She panted, pushing herself to match his pace.
As they entered the trail, they were cloaked beneath the shade of its tall, old oak trees. It was this darkness that helped provide her cover that day one year ago, and within a few short minutes, she would approach the bend where it happened once more. That’s when she spoke up.
“I was thinking, maybe we could…”
But Dan stopped before she could finish. He came to a halt in the exact spot where it happened, and I didn’t need to do a thing.
In fact, Kristen kept running a few steps more before realizing that he wasn’t by her side. “Everything okay?” she called back, while taking in her surroundings. She couldn’t believe she’d almost run right past it. And now, here she stood, with him. The adrenaline pulsed through her veins and she couldn’t help but grin at the realization.
At first, Dan didn’t even look at her face. He just found himself so incensed by the question.
“Of course, I’m not okay! What kind of fucking question is that?!” he seethed.
But eventually, he took a deep breath and looked up. He was about to apologize because he knew – or rather he thought – that my death was not her fault. He wanted to tell her he was lashing out because he wasn’t sure if he was ready for this. But then he saw her smiling.
“What are you so happy about?” He asked, his patience bubbling over.
She stumbled over her words. “Oh, I, I’m just…I’m just remembering that silly red bandana Kate used to wear on her runs. Like she thought she was a cowgirl or something.” She scoffed, snorting in amusement, not noticing Dan’s facial expression change.
“How…how did you know she wore a red bandana?” He asked, stepping toward her.
Immediately, she realized her misstep and threw her hands up in denial.
“Oh, I’m sure I’ve seen it on Facebook or in the pictures in your house or something. I didn’t mean to upset you, honey, let’s just keep moving.”
But Dan stood as still as the trees around them. And I knew then that this was my moment.
I stepped in front of him and grabbed his hands. I looked into his eyes before stepping once more, not next to him, but into him. And for just a moment, my spirit and his body came together. I opened myself to him and watched as he witnessed that day for himself. The day she took my life, in her desperation to have him as her own.
As I poured the knowing into him, he watched in anguish, and I worried about the toll this would take. But I also knew it was the only way for him to be sure of the truth.
It wasn’t much longer before I came spilling out and onto the ground beside his feet. To him, it felt like he’d figured this out on his own, not knowing that what he’d seen were the actual events of that day and not just his imagination putting the puzzle pieces together. I looked up and saw the realization in his eyes, and this time it was he who was filled with rage.
Suddenly, he lunged toward her, but I was quicker. I grabbed him by the wrist, making him hesitate. He wasn’t a violent man, and we both knew it. No matter how much this discovery hurt him.
I whispered in his ear, “I’ll be waiting for you. And I hope I wait a long, long time.”
At this, he gasped and tilted his face toward the sky, as if searching for me among the clouds.
Then he reached into the pocket of his shorts and called 9-1-1.
The clock is ticking, tick
the sounds dropping heavy from the pendulum,
except it’s just a pair of plastic hands
and I feel my own fingers tingling, numb
under their broken skins;
did I try to fight back?
My feet are cold, cold, cold
so cold I can’t feel a thing except
the heaviness of them hanging off me,
and my heart does not beat.
Instead, I am filled with the rhythm
of the clock, tick
I died in the night, perhaps,
under the watchful eyes of the cold moon,
under the silver skies,
under the invisible knife
held in frozen fingers.
Because your fingers would have to be frozen,
to hold a knife like that?
The darkness is heavy where it pools about
my heavy feet, but
it’s light about my hair, lifting
me up like dust
there’s my body on the floor
leaking dried brown tired blood
and laid down gently
but it isn’t the floor, is it?
I never wanted to be buried in a coffin.
I scream at the wooden walls
and flap like a cage of wild birds
and slam my bundled soul against the vault
but the concrete
and my body will
decompose, down here
... but I can leave.
where is the sound coming from?
my body may have been a cage, but it was
so I kiss it goodbye
maybe this ticking is only in my head
but I could swear I saw the clock
when was that?
earth and sky, silver sky
filled with stars
and the warm gaze of the cold moon.
that’s it, now I know,
I’m a ghost,
left behind for the moment
but soon to be claimed by the next
why am I here?
And the scenery is speeding by as if I’m in a moving car
but it’s going far too fast
so where’s the cliff?
or the bridge?
the reason for this speed?
because why else would you drive this fast?
There he is.
I forgot about him.
How did I forget about him?
Maybe I didn’t love him as much as I thought I did.
I did wonder, sometimes.
He’s grieving, but
maybe he didn’t love me as much as he thought he did,
it’s been days but
I still don’t know why I’m here
unless it’s to watch him
getting closer to this stranger
with her delicate hands
and easy laugh
and words as sweet as honey until
you have them in your mouth
and then you notice the
beneath the fingernails.
maybe I’m just jealous.
But I don’t feel jealous.
I don’t feel much at all.
Maybe ghosts can’t feel.
it’s been days but
was that? I think
I touched her hand, her
poking softly at the
hollow in my
Maybe ghosts can feel.
Perhaps I will let her take him,
but then again,
maybe I really did love him.
It’s hard to know these things.
So maybe I’ll whisper in his ear until he listens.
I never thought I would be the type
to haunt my lover when I died.
But there it is.
he may be starting to listen;
he gets up in the night sometimes and
slips out of the bed he already shares and
looks up at the cold moon and
lets me whisper and
listens, he really does listen.
But he can’t believe it,
But he’s still listening
sharp flash of knife gleam and there it is,
clutched in frozen fingers
in a dark room
glistening in the light of the
searing as a branding iron.
Perhaps I will let her take him,
but he’s been listening,
so maybe I’ll whisper one last time
before the last tatters of my fading
before I go onwards toward
But I saw the invisible knife flash,
and his head turn in the moonlight,
and his eyes wide
and her smile frozen
like her frozen fingers
and he died like that,
watching her do it.
So maybe when I see him again,
if I see him again,
we’ll love each other (still? again?)
or maybe not.
But either way,
my purpose was filled,
So I guess it all went well,
in the end.
Just a Dash
I wake from a deep slumber
To my husband’s aching cries
A woman’s there to comfort him
In the midst of my demise
I’ve fallen down the staircase
And cracked my fragile skull
It is an accident, they claim
But they don’t know at all
This woman that is standing
Along my husband’s side
Laced the Earl Grey I consumed
With potent cyanide
My body, starved of oxygen
Collapsed as I descended
I tried so hard to comprehend
But by then my life had ended
Our sultry maid was looking
For a way to steal his heart
She simply couldn’t have him
Until we were apart
He could never leave, you see
The life my funds provided
Once, his eyes were wandering
At times, I felt divided
With me gone she drew in close
Stalking on her prey
The woman would say anything
To make him feel okay
I could hear her whisper,
“She had a vile addiction.”
My husband gasps, “I didn’t know!”
So torn by the affliction
She helped with my arrangements
Watched me lowered in the ground
He was so very thankful
And was glad she was around
This went on for many weeks
This new found love connection
My soul was aching, agonized
Witnessing his blind affection
But somehow I had to show him
That this woman was to blame
My death was not an accident
I would not die in vain
I stormed into his dreams that night
I shook his soul awake
A memory of the bitter tea
“Beware, for she is fake!”
He woke up to her tapping gently
Upon his bedroom door
He had no explanation, just
“I don’t need you anymore.”
“Let me fix a cup of tea”
Gone, before he could decide
“And for you, my sweetness,
A dash of cyanide.”
I will love you forever...
Death was never something he thought about. He did not lay awake nights, heart pounding in his ears, choking his breath, threatening to burst from his chest as he contemplated the thought that this might be the night he didn’t wake up. And if not tonight, some other night or day as yet unseen. Mind spinning in a whirlwind of existential angst in the silent darkness, body flooded with the energy of fear, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of un-being.
No, despite middle-age, he had a child's blissful ignorance of his own mortality.
And then, without the fanfare of mortal illness, fatal accident or advanced aging, he died.
No. Scratch that. His life was taken from him.
He was killed.
And, worse still, he did not immediately achieve eternal bliss, floating with angels amongst the billowy clouds of the heaven depicted in some famous work of art he’d once seen in a museum, nor did he suddenly find himself the repository of all the answers to the mysteries of the universe that have plagued humanity for as long as humans have had hours to dedicate to ideas rather than just the necessities of food, shelter and clothing. On the contrary, he was somehow still there, present in the home he had shared with the love of his life, trapped in the walls like secrets or black mold.
“Serena…” Her name spilled from every crevice of the room. His love…
He watched with what eyes he knew not, as her body crumbled over his, as her tears fell, silently, profusely, on what was a quickly chilling, rigor mortis-ing corpse. He screamed along with her, a mouthless, silent scream that equaled or surpassed hers in the agony of loss.
He did not know how long his mouthless scream endured, but when he once again was aware of his absent presence, his stepfather, Nick, was pulling her from the room and her dearest friend, Liana, was covering his body as she called 911 on her cellphone. As he watched from everywhere and nowhere, she slipped the friendship bracelet she had recently made for him from his wrist. A memento of a life that was no more. She had been a good friend to them.
And then, he – can I still be I, when I am no longer?– was alone. The physical evidence of his life, his body, removed at some point he did not experience. How much time had passed? What is time in this place, this space, where I am nothing but memories seeping through the cracks in the wall?
He didn’t know how to not be where he…wasn’t, and so he remained there, suspended, as it where, like a frog in a jar of formaldehyde.
It was not long before there she was and his heart, if he had had one still, would have broken as his stepfather carried her listless form and lay her upon the bed, pulling up the blanket and kissing her forehead. She grabbed his hand, eyes full and dark and sad, and whispered, “Please, don’t leave me, Nick.”
“Never,” he replied, his own voice raspy and full of grief that mirrored hers. Mine. Holding her hand, he sat on the edge of the bed.
Pain radiated everywhere, all their hearts breaking, broken.
Laying on her side, curled into a ball but for the arm extended to hold Nick’s hand, she moaned “I just don’t understand. He wasn’t sick. He exercised. He ate well. He didn’t smoke. He rarely drank alcohol. He wasn’t overweight. How does all that turn into a heart attack, Nick? How?”
“I don’t know, Serena. It was just his time.”
“Why him? Why now? Why not me? How will I live without him, Nick?”
“I am here for you, love. As you and Steve were for me when Elena passed.” Head bowed, he continued, “I can’t believe it’s only been six months.”
Serena and Nick looked to the doorway to find Liana looking in. Nick released Serena’s hand and stood. Steve felt a slight chill pushing back the weight of grief in the room.
“Leelee,” Serena cried lifting her arms. Liana ran to her side and embraced her. Nick walked to the door. He watched for a moment, his eyes soft, then silently left the room, closing the door behind him.
“Everyone is gone, love. I told them you had a headache and needed to rest.” Liana stroked Serena’s hair as Steve longed to do. As he had done so many times before.
“Thank you, Leelee.”
“I cleaned up downstairs so you don’t have to worry about it. There is a ton of food in the refrigerator and the freezer. It will last you for weeks.”
“What would I do without you?”
“Anything for you, Serena. Anything.”
“Will you stay with me, please? I don’t want to be alone. The bed is so big without Steve next to me.”
“Of course, love,” Liana whispered, laying down and curling herself around his love, as he never would again.
The room was suffused with emotions so thick it is a wonder that the walls did not press in upon them and swallow them whole. Sadness, grief, pain and…lust. And then the scene melted away and once again he was alone in his state of…nonbeing.
True to their word, Nick and Liana were frequent companions for Serena. Steve would hear one-sided conversations between them as they planned walks and dinners as well as visits to her favorite café. His only sense of the passage of time was the subtle change in Serena as her grief passed, her sadness lightened and she began to smile again.
“Hey, Nick…I’m good. Really good…Yeah, we’re still on for Saturday…getting ready to go out with Liana…Yeah, she’s been her wonderful self. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the last few months without both of you…yeah, she’s still staying over nights…” she looked towards the bed, “the bed is so big when I’m alone…yeah, I know. Soon. Soon….okay. See you then.”
As she ended the call, she and Steve both felt rather than saw that she was not alone. She looked up quickly and then relaxed with a smile.
“Hey, Leelee. I didn’t know you were here already. Just let me get my dress on.”
“Was that Nick?” Liana asked from the door as Selena ruffled through the dresses in her closet.
“Yeah. He’s been great checking up on me. Keeping me busy. Like you.” She paused as she pulled a short, black dress out of the closet. “What do you think?”
Liana’s eyes flitted to the dress, “How about the red one?”
Serena looked up. “I don’t think I’m ready for red yet.” She looked down. “And the red was Steve’s favorite.”
“And mine,” Liana said softly.
“Next time,” Serena said. She took a deep breath and then pulled on the black dress. “I was thinking, I want to start a garden like yours, Leelee. I think it will be soothing for me. I need a hobby…something.”
“Let me zip you up. Hold your hair.” She pulled up the zipper, and before she released it, she bent to kiss Serena’s neck, then stepped back quickly. “Gardening? Um, sure, love, I’ll give you some cuttings from my plants.”
“Thank you so much! I especially love that one with the purple flowers.”
There was a distinct shift in the room temperature before Liana responded, “I’ll give you several of the plants that are both lovely and easy to care for to begin. You and gardening have never been on the best of terms.”
Serena laughed, saying, “You’re right, of course. Let’s start tomorrow, okay?”
Liana said, “You got it. We’d better go before we’re late. Ready?”
When Steve was once again alone, he was left with a sense of uneasiness, a feeling that he was missing something important.
Later that night, Serena entered the room, Liana not far behind.
“Really, Leelee. You can go home tonight. You’ve been wonderful staying with me like this, but I think I’m ready to sleep alone.”
“It’s no problem at all, Serena. I love being here with you,” Liana responded, drawing closer. “It’s like when we were teenagers.” She stood before Serena. In a quiet voice, she said, “I always loved our sleepovers.”
Again, there was that something niggling at Steve’s…consciousness.
“I love it, too, Leelee, but I need to learn to be alone.”
“But you don’t have to be alone. I’m here. I want to be here.” With that, Liana lifted her hand and caressed Serena’s cheek gently, tipped her chin and then kissed her lips, softly.
Serena stood very still but didn’t pull away.
And then Liana deepened the kiss; with a groan, her arms enveloped Serena, pulling her close as she moaned Serena.
Their dresses were on the floor, their bodies entwined in the dark, Liana whispering, my love, my love. Finally.
It was then that he understood.
Visions passed in the space around him of their lives. Of Liana always present. And he realized, or perhaps he had always known somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind where we tuck away uncomfortable knowledge and pretend it does not exist. He knew that she had always been longing. Always loving. Always lusting…for Serena.
And then he saw Liana’s garden. And he saw the friendship bracelet she had given him.
And he knew.
And with the knowledge, he was suddenly not just an ephemeral presence but a real presence and it was no longer night but rather day and not the following day but some other day, perhaps Saturday for Serena was once again dressing for the evening, but for dinner with Nick and Liana was sitting on the bed looking none too happy.
“It’s just dinner, Leelee. He’s lonely since Elena died. We’ve helped each other with our grief. He doesn’t have feelings like that for me.”
“Of course he does. Everyone loves you, Serena. You just don’t see it.”
Serena looked at Liana and then her eyes got wide as she looked just beyond her. And he knew that she saw him. That he was present. Corporeal. Her hand went to her throat, “Steve?”
Liana looked concerned. “You okay, Serena?”
Serena ignored her, still looking at him. He replied, “I don’t know how long this will last, your being able to see me. I hope you can hear me. Can you hear me?”
She nodded, eyes still wide, body trembling.
“Serena?” Liana queried again.
“Serena. I did not just have a heart attack. It was induced. I don’t know how she did it but my guess is it has something to do with her garden and the bracelet she gave me just before I died. Find out about the plants she keeps out of the main beds and only touches with gloves. Behind the shed. Do you understand, Serena? She is not well. She killed me. Be careful, my love.”
He knew his time was up as he felt himself one once again with everything, and therefore, nothing.
“Steve!” Serena screamed before crumpling to the floor.
“Serena!” Liana said leaping to cradle his wife in her arms.
The bell rang. Liana lifted Serena and put her on the bed. “I’ll tell Nick you can’t go out tonight. I’ll take care of everything.”
“No!” Serena yelled. Then in a normal voice, “No. I’m fine. I just…I just felt Steve close. So close. No, I’ll go. And you, too. You go home. I want to be alone tonight. I need to be alone.”
Liana looked angry then controlled her features, “Okay, love. Whatever you need. Call me if you want me to come over after you get back.”
“Thanks, Leelee. Um, I better go let Nick in.”
She ran out of the room and Liana stood there a moment looking around, eyes narrowed. In a hard voice, she said, “She’s mine. Mine! Steven,” and then walked out of the room leaving behind the scent of fear. Whose, he didn’t know.
Then, it was dark. Serena lay in the bed alone. Eyes peering into the darkness she whispered, “Steven?”
Though he willed himself there beside her, he remained in that space where dreams go to die and memories live. Serena was a whisper she could not hear.
“I know I’m not crazy. I know you were here. I’m so afraid. I don’t know what to do. Nick thinks I imagined you, that it was my own mind putting together pieces that have always been there but that I am only now putting together.” She sat up in the bed, hands around her knees and rocked. “Steve, I know it’s more than that. I know you are here. Even now. Looking over me. Wanting to protect me.”
“No, he’s not, Serena.” The bedroom door closed. “I’m here. I am always here for you. I have always been here for you. And you never cared. It never mattered. I was just your bestie when you were my everything. My reason for being. And now, when we are finally together, you bring him between us. Again.”
“Leelee…I…uh…I don’t understand.” Serena had slowly gotten out of the bed.
Liana sighed. “It doesn’t matter. Why don’t you get back in the bed? I brought you some tea to help you sleep.”
“Ah, thank you? But, uh, no. I’m fine. Um, you can go home now, Leelee. Really. We can talk in the morning.”
“No. We can’t. There is nothing more to say. Drink. The. Tea.” She held the cup up and Serena noticed she wore rubber gloves.
And she knew.
In the blink of an eye, Serena grabbed a pillow and threw it at Liana, jumping back as the tea splashed into Liana’s face. Liana screamed, first from the scalding water that splashed on her skin, into her mouth and eyes and up her nose. And then, there was only a choking sound as she fell to the ground, unable to breathe, her heart racing to its end.
“Serena,” she rasped, reaching towards her.
Serena kept far away as she called 911.
When the blinking lights of emergency vehicles began to swirl on the walls, Liana felt Steve’s presence like a cocoon around her.
And then he was gone.
(*DISCLAIMER: My protagonist is a real A-hole. He does not mean to intentially offend anyone from the LGBTQ+ community. He doesn’t know any better.)
Had I known I was gonna turn up dead, my last supper would not have been an open face PB&J on a heine slice of bread. Damn it; I woulda got my lazy ass up and drove down to Red Lobster and ordered all you can eat shrimp with a double side of lobster tails drippin drawn butter like milk from a titty, and ahh sweet sugar please keep them cheddar bay cheesy biscuits a comin. Pop. Pop. Pop.
So here I am.
Come to find out, I just may see myself from the grave on 48 hours, Dateline or any other one of them upper channel murder mystery TV shows that suck you in like a vampire pumpin iron on steroids. Who dun it? Spoiler alert. Nine times outta ten it was the spouse, you know it, I know it and every sucker that sits down with a bowl of popcorn to watch knows it, yet what else do we have to do on a Saturday night? Go figure.
It still blows my mind how frequently people that vow to love each on their wedding day turn up as pigs on the wing. There they are on their special day each believin in their own real life fairy tale proclaiming, “blah blah blah blah”... “till death do us part, blah blah blah….I do,” performed in front of a totally buying that shit crowd made up of family and friends; and then the next thing you know, right after the honeymoon, by the time they run out of their first roll of toilet paper, the war of the roses is a thing. Even the married folk sittin there sportin their Sunday best and buy one get one free manicures who know better are totally diggin on the yarn all over again like shedding sheep in a pew next to their very own lamb with a ring on it, who they literally just felt like throwing under the bus on the way over!
But why wouldn’t they buy it again and again? Everybody loves a good fairytale, don’t they? And Santa Claus. And the Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy was always my favorite. And a party. Everyone loves a party.
At a formal wedding, what’s not to like? Why dwell on an inevitable future fate of a starry eyed bride and groom (or groom and groom and bride and bride) when the herd is pumped to dance to the beat and primed to stuff their pie holes over a 3, maybe 4 or more courser with unlimited drinks, sometimes not only the cheap stuff, and then if you’re lucky maybe even one of them chocolate fountains I once thought I’d died and gone to heaven for, but you do know I’m just making use of a metaphor, right, cause now I am truly dead, dead, dead; deader than a fricken doornail, but heaven? Not for me. Not just yet, but almost! Seems somehow it is up to me to solve my own murder, but I’m bout to go join up with my hero, Old Grampy on the other side, maybe catch a game of pinochle and whatever the hell else it is he’s doin up there, cause I do believe I’ve got the skinny.
Trouble was with my marriage, right after we said “I do” for no apparent reason she suddenly became the flying nun and I enthusiastically became the master of my own domain, if you catch my drift. Eventually I said, “Look Mary, we can either go our separate ways or stay married and accept we are nothing more than roommates. But until we figure things out, let’s be civil, split the rent, while you continue to do all the chores, and promise to agree to make nice nice in front of my granny when she comes around.” But no, Mary insisted we were gonna try to make things work. I agreed to try but I must admit, she was the one that put in the whole enchilada; setting up therapy, watching marital bootcamp episodes of Dr. Phil, even bringing up Dr. Ruth’s “Sexually Speaking” on YouTube, when all I had left to give her was a mini taco, this low, very low energy coming out of somewhere like my left pinky, but in spite of my so called Neanderthal tendencies towards my marraige, according to Mary, she was not the one who killed me. 100 percent.
Right after the accident, all day long, day in and day out she was slobbering all over everything, including my PS 4, which just ain’t right, piles and piles of spent tissues makin the place look like an indoor blizzard had hit, and then soon after my death, SHE started comin around, more and more and more; Mary’s so called best friend I had nicknamed Wonder Woman when I was alive, comin around with flowers, then chocolates, then wine (not the cheap stuff), then hugs, then back rubs, and yeah, you know what comes next. I thought I would like watching them more than I do, but if you saw my porn hub preferences you would know I prefer two Asian chicks. Perhaps my gaydar was off; way off. Poor Turncoat Mary’s too. Neither one of us had a clue before I died that all along the problem was she had a preference for beans. Go figure.
Dateline is gonna have fun with my murder. Yes they will. This time it was not the spouse who dun it, but for the first 45 minutes they will have you believing it was until they rip the rug right out from under you and you will stop eating popcorn long enough to say “Holy shit, it was the best friend.” It was without a doubt Wonder Woman. Motive? Wanting to get into Mary’s panties and she just couldn’t wait any longer to get me out of the way.
When you are a ghost, you may not be able to do things the same way you used to like eating and crapping, but you can transfer your body size just like Casper the friendly ghost and slide through things, and as I figured out after a while, I was even able to crawl right up into people’s brains like I did with Wonder Woman after I suspected it was her that did me in, and while I was in there I got the whole sordid scoop and then with no need for a password I got onto her computer and wrote a confession email addressed to the detective in charge of the case at the Suffolk County PD. By this point in time she was so racked with guilt, when he arrived, she totally believed she had wrote the damn email herself explaining how she was the one who cut my breaklines causing my car to careen off the Robert Moses bridge.
So I guess my job is done here. Hope you have a nice life Mary, I really hope you do, and now, case solved, it is time for me to bid this world adieu. Shuffle up them cards Gramps.
But before I go, if my ghost of a self could only figure out a way to eat one last cheddar bay cheesy biscuit, that would be real nice.
Keep the Doctors Away
I had a friend that used to say that you could die at any moment. I always thought they were full of hogwash (Guess I should’ve listened to them after all).
It’s a strange feeling, being dead. It feels like a perpetual dream- walking through a fog.
Five minutes ago I saw my own face directly for the first time- and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
The funny thing is: I don’t remember dying. I was eating breakfast, and chatting with Laura. It’s been three years since I married her, but she looks as beautiful as the day I met her. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s true. So sue me.
In movies, when a character dies their vision fades to black. They almost got it right- ever since I woke up, all I see is grey.
At first I thought I was having an out of body experience. Which in a way I suppose I was. But as I watched her frantically listen at my chest I realize- I’m not breathing. I lunge myself towards her, and hit -nothing. I pass through her like a shiver in the wind.
Another thing about being dead- you can’t cry.
She called an ambulance, but I could already tell she knew I was gone. Her eyes were flint- almost but not quite unwavering.
When they arrived, she left with them. I trie to come with her- but the moment I tried to leave the house, I jolted back. It only took me a few minutes to realize I can’t leave.
I decided to explore and find out what I can do (If I keep busy maybe I won’t think about what this means). I’m incapable of interacting with anything physical, except when I try to leave the house. It’s like an invisible barrier, keeping me inside.
I watched a video on dissociation once. They talked about feeling as if a shroud separated them from the world- like nothing is real. For the first time I find myself empathizing with them.
When I heard the front door creak, I flew to the front (quite literally, considering my newfound intangibility). And what I saw was a broken woman. I wanted to scream, to hug her, anything to show here that I’m here. But instead, I watched her fall to her knees. I almost didn’t hear her whisper- I wish I didn’t.
“Why. Why did it have to be Luna. Why did it have to be her.” Her voice was unsteady, cracking as she said my name. Without thinking, I tried to put my hand on her shoulder. She flinched, as if remembering something.
Laura slept on the couch that night- she took one look at the unmade bed and silently walked away.
The next day, Bella paid a visit. She lives about five miles away. She sells apples- even has a whole orchard of apple trees in her backyard.
She brought a steaming pie and two glasses of wine. I’m not sure if she understands how mourning works, but I could tell Laura appreciated it.
As I watched them talk I saw a smile return to Laura’s face. I’m glad.
I hovered over Bella while I waited for Laura to get out of the bathroom, impatient. I saw her wipe chucks of apple seed of her vest, as if swating a gnat. Wait. What on earth was she doing to break apple seeds into chucks? My first thought was some sort of recipe, but then I remembered- apple seeds are poisonous. I read once that about 200 apple seeds ground up were enough to kill.
My mind jumped to my last breakfast- served with a helping of nuts. Oh god. No.
I have to tell Laura- but how? I can't do anything. Well. Most anything.
I only have one shot at this- one chance to let her know. I trembled, my hands unstead as I sealed my fate.
As everything faded to black (finally), I knew I have done it. It was worth it, in the end.
Up on the Roof
The funny thing is, I could start by saying "When you're dead, you can..." or giving some other articulation of "the rules"—but I don't know what it's like for other people, do I? Sorry—other spirits. Entities. Nonexisting former bloodbags. I can only convey my own experience; I can't definitely say, "When dead, you can concentrate like Patrick Swayze and, with a training montage or two, kick a can." Or "If you've passed on, you're allowed to talk to Bruce Willis and interact with red objects." If there's a manual to being gone, it fell out of the cardboard box and is lost in the recycling bin.
So, I can only say this: I'm stuck on the roof.
I used to love the asphalt territory up there. You can get a perspective on a neighborhood, see how humans organize their collective existence, watch kids on rollerblades disappear behind summer-green tree branches. But when you're dead—sorry, sorry; in my experience being dead—I can't see super well. It's not like having bad vision was in the living realm; it's more like having less vision. The sights from up here have very little impact, I guess, in that they don't stick in what used to be your brain.
Down on the deck, I do see her, wiping her tears with the pads of her fingers, pulling them down her cheeks in a way that makes me ache. She's not looking up where I am, probably because this is where I died. It's not clear to me whether it was a fall, or I brushed the 200-amp hot wire without thinking, or maybe I just had a heart attack. Either way, Mike and I were going up and down the ladder one Saturday morning (a few of my attic vents had cracked and were making noise in the wind, and he offered to give me a hand with replacing them), and the next minute I know, I'm on the roof. Permanently, it seems. Obviously, I've tried to roll or jump off. I just can't. Can't squeeze in any of the vents or exhausts, either.
But, yeah—I can't hear in the same way as I did before, but that doesn't stop James Taylor's "Up on the Roof" from playing on repeat in my ex-brain. I can't decide if it's worse, though, to not be able to hear her crying, night after night, out on the deck below my shingled purgatory. (It was a small consolation, though, to note that Mike must have fixed the attic vents, which I've had plenty of time to inspect, as they're screwed down with those fat 11/32" Torx head screws he loves so much).
I can't write notes or any of that creepy phenomena, either. One thing, though, that you read about is true: I am, in some way, on the same electrical plane as the living universe, because any time I accidentally lean against the service drop—the metal pole where the electrical service enters the home—I feel like my soul is filled with burning, expanding gas. If I do it long enough, which is unbearable, the house browns out for less than a moment, which I can see (more like perceive) in the yellow kichen light's slight dip in power on the lawn.
I do this more and more lately. Partially because there's literally nothing else to do; partially because lately, Mike will come over and cry with my wife. Lately, they don't even cry. Lately, they have a drink. And a laugh. And other things I don't notice because I'm filling my essence with the inside-out explosion of 200 amps.
Last night, I leaned into that service drop long enough that I thought I might disintegrate, and then I lay my ex-head down on the asphalt so that roof eave blocked my view of them down there on the deck. I've inspected lots of the roof this closely in my post-life tedium, but never the service drop, mostly because when I'm over here, it's to gaze/spy upon my wife, which inevitably leads to me zapping myself.
But lying here, I get a close view, and as the orchestral swells of James Taylor's tune once again wash over me, I see it.
The service drop grounding wire has been removed. Cut off, actually. And attached to the metal body of the service drop, with a 11/32" Torx screw.
I curl myself around the service drop. It's been re-grounded thoroughly, in about 3 places.
My first thought is that I will brown out the electricity in patterns, to let her know what happened. She'll notice the Morse code, decipher it, and know the truth! Problem: Neither of us is fluent in Morse. My wife was and is a thoughtful, clever, erudite person who is not a East German spy and therefore does not know Morse. And neither do I. Unfortunately, up here, there's no Internet to look it up, either—
That's actually not true. The cable Internet enters the house three feet below the service drop for electrical. It's true that I can't step off or leave this roof. But, can I reach down and interact with the coaxial cable? I reach, and with my fingertip, I feel it: tiny impulses, much, much more controlled than the fire hose of electricity up top.
So here's my Patrick Swayze training montage:
With my middle finger on the coax, I begin to sense the packets of information flowing over the line. We've never actually gotten cable TV through our cable, so that made it easier to sense. Most people know about the bits and bytes that computers use to transport data, but the security checks that hosts and clients use to communicate? That took a while to figure out. But like I said, I have nothing else to do up here. And so test packets and pings sent in and out of my house—unfortunately, now Mike's house, too—went through my ever-understanding fingertip. Once I got a sense of the email server packets' shapes and protocols, I was close—but then, I needed to add the subtle skill of adding my own data to the server requests.
Again, what else did I have to do? I had my one-song playlist; I had my mission.
At one point, I had composed an email to my wife outlining Mike's guilt. But by then, their relationship was—well, I don't want to think about it. So I took a few more months, or years, or whatever, and I took a closer look at the data. Images are simply hexadecimal data sets, and videos are just sequences of those images. One more training montage later, I had created a video of Mike's murderous act (at least how I imagined it), and I sent it to her, and to the police. It makes one wonder how many videos people have seen that were created by ghosts.
I rolled onto my back and sat up. (Again, this may be just me, but: the dead don't get sore or stiff. No ligaments to freeze up during the years of physical data manipulation). My sight had dissapated enough that I couldn't really sense anything. I felt no breeze on my face, smelled no grass clippings, heard no birds or insects. All my consciousness was
"On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so..."
Among the living, it is a commonly held belief that the passage of time is relative. It is felt by every schoolchild enduring double-maths on a Friday afternoon, every employee forced to spend another day at a Health and Safety seminar and every spouse begrudgingly spending holidays with the in-laws.
It is known more acutely by those who had recently felt the embrace of death.
For Doug Howarth, it sometimes seemed months would pass in the time it took to blink an eye and other times he could watch his widow take one breath which lasted hours. Surely this was the reason Steph was quick to find comfort in the arms of Adam, Doug’s brother. While it seemed to him he had been dead only a short time, he had to believe his widow had mourned a year or more before believing she had found love again.
Yet each passing moment since his death was as close in his memory as the present, almost as though he was experiencing time in a new way; as if everything that had happened or was happening were unfolding simultaneously. He remembered the literal and emotional shock of the poorly-wired electric drill which had stopped his living heart; he remembered the wake held in his and Steph’s home during which his wife had ranted her frustration at James, Doug’s father; he remembered these as keenly as watching the kiss she and Adam were now sharing.
From Doug’s perspective, all these events could have occurred within the same afternoon. It was only the tell-tale signs of Adam’s changing facial hair and Steph’s different lipstick and eyeshadow colour that informed him they were, in the land of the living, separated by weeks or months.
‘You are the most remarkable woman I have ever met,’ Doug heard Adam say.
Steph traced a long-nailed finger down Adam’s cheek, following the line of his neatly cut beard.
‘If I had lived through even half of what you have,’ Adam continued, ‘I would struggle to get out of bed each day. Yet you, you embrace life with a passion I have never before known.’
He pulled Steph into his chest and kissed her forehead.
‘I don’t know where you get your strength from,’ he whispered, ‘but I swear to you, my love, I will never let you hurt again.’
Steph sighed quietly, the soft and sensual noise which Doug had loved hearing when he would hold her that close.
‘Losing JJ was hard,’ she breathed. ‘But once I met Doug, I knew I could find happiness again. You remind me of him. You have the same big heart, full of compassion.’
Adam stifled a sob. His eyes glistened at Doug’s name and his voice was strained.
‘Is it wrong that I feel for you this way?’
Steph lifted her head to Adam. She smiled, a sad yet beautiful sight.
‘No more wrong than my love for you. I still feel the same way for Doug, believe me I do. But if he were here now, I think he would give us his blessing.’ She burrowed her head into Adam’s chest again.
Yes, Doug wanted to say. Be happy, darling. More than any other person in this world, you deserve it.
‘I cannot shake the guilt, though,’ Adam said. Tears were rolling from his eyes now.
Doug felt a sudden shift. He sensed Adam carried a greater burden than only falling for his brother’s widow.
‘The drill I lent Doug…’ Adam said through his tears. ‘The one that… that killed him…’
The pain of the electrical current coursing through his body came back to Doug, as real now as it was when he had died.
Steph pulled away from Adam and backed toward the fireplace.
‘What are you saying, Adam?’
‘Please believe me,’ Adam sobbed. ‘I would never have hurt him. I loved him. I didn’t mean for him to die.’
Memories flooded Doug’s mind, times from when he was alive. Unlike his experiences since death, remembering details of his life were foggy and disjointed. There was no sense of order, just myriad scenes of his past; Adam’s jealous eyes at Doug’s wedding, the punctured tyre of his childhood bike which Adam had envied, Adam’s lingering looks every time he was in Steph’s presence.
What did you do? Doug thought.
‘What are you saying?’ Steph repeated. She was pressed against the mantel now, hands behind her back.
‘I didn’t know the drill was faulty…’ He took a step toward Steph.
You? You killed me?
‘Nobody could have known that,’ Steph said, the tension plain in her voice.
Get out, darling, Doug willed. Go! Now! Get away from this murderer.
Adam took another step, raising an arm to Steph.
The set of cast iron fire tools clanged against one another as Steph grabbed the poker from its stand. She lunged forward and swung the weapon at Adam’s head, landing a blow on his temple.
Adam staggered, blinked rapidly, then crumbled to the ground.
Run! Doug silently shouted. Go now, get out while the sonofabitch is down.
But his wife did not hear him.
She took a step closer to Adam, raised the fire poker and brought it down heavily onto his head. Bone fractured. Blood splattered. Steph struck again, and again, and again.
Doug felt neither remorse for his dying sibling nor joy for the vengeance Steph had claimed. All Doug felt was the relief that his wife was safe.
He watched with pride as she staggered to the bookcase and looked at a framed picture of Jim Junior, JJ.
‘Two down, big brother,’ she panted. ‘Just the wife to go then I’ll get the bastard that raped our mother and refused to accept you as his own.’
I thought we were golden.
After we moved out of Texas, I figured we'd be safe from the hate. Safe from the prejudice.
But it seems like the redneck cruelty I hated in my small Texas town followed me here.
And now I'm staring at the barrel of a gun, praying that whoever this woman is leaves my husband alone.
I can't see her face. Blonde curls and blue eyes peek out of her ski mask, and her body is the perfect hourglass shape.
If I was straight, she'd be hot.
But I'm not, and she's pointing a gun at my face, and so the only thing I can feel is terror.
"Get outta here, you goddamn queer," she says. "See you in hell."
And I swear, I can see my brains on the street before everything goes black.
When I come to, I'm back home.
That can't be right. I saw my brains. I can't be alive.
But here I am. In bed. I stand up. I've got a pounding headache. Just a headache? I got the shit shot outta me by a homophobic hottie and all I have to show for it is a headache that could be fixed by a few Advil?
Something is very wrong here.
Well, first, I'll grab some Advil. We can sort out the rest later.
I open the bathroom door, squinting. Whose bright idea was it to put a window in a bathroom? I'm all for natural light, but not when I wake up at six in the morning to take a piss and get a face-full of ultraviolet rays.
I let my fingers run along the drawers, trying to find the doorknob. There. Open it, fumble around... is this the Tylenol, or is it Mark's antidepressants? In this damn light, I can't tell, so I blink some more and wait for the spots to fade from my vision.
Hang on... I opened the door, didn't I?
I didn't hear anyone close it, but it's definitely shut. Why would Mark shut the door? Wouldn't he want to talk to me? Ask me what happened?
Finally, I can see.
But the cabinets aren't open, either. I swear I opened them. I was feeling around with the pills.
I stare in shock as my hand closes around the doorknob. I can feel it, I can even open it, but the door itself won't budge. It's like there's a dream world on top of the real one. So which one am I in?
Screw the Advil. I already feel like I'm tripping, I don't need any more chemicals in my system. I have to find Mark. He'll be able to tell me what's going on.
Maybe getting shot was a hallucination, a dream, too? Maybe I accidentally got some wacky food poisoning. Maybe I did drugs and I just can't remember. But... Mark would have stopped me, wouldn't he? He would have stopped me from getting high. He knows firsthand the damage drugs can cause.
I just need to find him. Then everything will be okay.
I find the TV on. It's some ad for a nursing home. I sure as hell hope I die before I get old. I don't want to live in some old people home. Let me die in peace.
I follow the trail of bottles with a sense of growing dread. Mark only hits the bottle when things are going really badly. Is it his sister? I know Kathy has been sick lately, but I thought the doctors said it would be fine. Is she dead?
Mark is on the floor in the kitchen, sobbing.
"Fuck, Mark, you okay? Mark?!"
He doesn't seem to hear me. He gets like that sometimes, where he's so wrapped up in his sorrow that he doesn't hear anything else.
"M-Mark? Come on, babe, it's okay, I—"
I stop when I see what he's holding in his hands. A paper. No, two. In one hand is a photograph of us. It's way back, back when we first met. He's grinning into the camera, and I'm staring at him, rolling my eyes with a smile. I remember. He told a joke right as the guy snapped the photo.
I always loved that photo. Why is he holding it now?
And in the other hand....
Oh shit. Is that a funeral brochure? Who... who died? Kathy... she wasn't that sick. And that photo...
Oh Jesus. Oh my God.
Am... am I dead?
I watch in helpless agony as Mark holds up the bottle.
Damn, straight whiskey? I have to do something. I can't let him drink himself to death. I just can't.
Mark stares at the last swirls of liquid death in the bottle and sighs in disgust. With tears still pouring down his face, he screams and throws the bottle at the wall. I watch as it shatters into a million pieces.
"Mark, no!" I step in front of him, but the glass goes right through me. Most pieces miraculously miss, but one evil little shard hits just above his eyebrow, drawing a small bead of blood.
To my shock, Mark starts laughing. He laughs as he pulls the glass out of his eyebrow, he laughs as he picks up the rest of the pieces, he laughs as blood drips down his face, mixing with tears. He laughs as he walks around, picking up glass and empty bottles, and he laughs as he dumps it all in the recycling.
"I'm sorry, John," he says, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. "I'm sorry for everything. I know you don't want this for me. I just... I don't know how to live without you." He stares with empty eyes at the smear of blood on his white sweatshirt.
I always told him that white was going to stain, I think, tears spiking in my eyes. I think about the ad, the one for the nursing home.
I take it back. I want to grow old. I want to be with Mark. I want to fight about what TV program to watch, and make fun of the straight celebrities, or eat Mark's famous pork ribs, or bicker over whose turn it is to wash the dishes like we're little kids. I want to live.
I want to give Mark a sign. To let him know that I'm here. But I can't touch anything. He's in the real world, I'm in the afterlife.
I try, though. I try to wrap my arms around his waist. I hold onto him as he shuffles around the kitchen.
He doesn't notice, and finally, I let go. I let go and I sob. Why am I a ghost? Why can't I just leave? I don't want to watch Mark tear himself apart.
I'll go somewhere else. Wander a less depressing house. Find some happy family in the suburbs, maybe. Someplace where I don't know anyone.
But when I get to the door, it's locked. And I mean really locked. Anywhere else in the house, I can walk through walls. But the doorways out are blocked.
Something is keeping me here. Something won't let me leave. If I figure out what that is, maybe I'll be free. Maybe I'll be free.
It's no use. I'll be stuck here forever. I've searched and searched all over the house. Even if there is something here holding me to this world, I can't touch it. I've tried everything, but no luck. I'm useless.
And all I can do is watch.
It's been three months. Long enough that Mark has stopped drinking himself into a daze.
Long... long enough... long enough for him to have moved on.
He's met a girl.
Her name is Sophie. She's pretty, you know. She's a girl, and I'm definitely gay, but Mark has always been pansexual. But it still hurts, you know? I want him to move on. I want him to be happy. But I don't want to watch him be with someone else. It hurts too much. Too goddamn much.
I just don't know why I'm here. What's the damn use? I can't do anything, say anything. I might as well be gone. Maybe this is my Hell. Watching Mark move on without me. Watching Sophie come in and take him away from me.
Something about her looks familiar. I can't remember exactly when she showed up. Maybe she's one of Mark's friends. Maybe they were seeing each other while we were together. Maybe he never loved me.
I guess that's a stupid thought, just little jealous me getting all irrational, but...
But maybe it's true.
Ghosts can't sleep. I'm up all the time. I usually stick to the kitchen.
Of course, when they start rocking the bed upstairs, it doesn't matter where I am. I can always hear them, no matter where I go. Living room, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom.
I can always hear them, but they can't hear me.
Where do I recognize her from?
With nothing else to do, nothing else to think about, that question consumes my days. She's sort of the stereotypical Hollywood model. Hourglass figure, blonde hair, blue eyes: name a famous model, you've got it. Hell, even Scarlett Johansson is blonde now. Maybe she's acted in a movie, or something. If I was alive, I could ask her, but...
But I can't do a thing.
All I can do is listen to the thuds and moans.
They'll bring the damn apartment down. This place was bought cheap— well, cheap for New York, anyway— and it's two steps away from falling into a hot place.
I wish I could at least pick up some earbuds. Drown out the noise. My new AirPods are going to waste, now that I'm dead.
I've been doing some digging (and by digging I mean looking at papers) and it seems like my death was ruled a suicide. How? I don't know. Seems like being shot point blank in the head would be obvious, but I guess my face was all blown to shit and they couldn't tell where I was shot. I wonder how they even identified me.
God, if only I could say something. Write a note. I could warn Mark. Warn him about the skinny blonde with the blue eyes.
Oh my God.
That's... that's where I've seen her.
Sophie isn't an actress.
She's the woman who murdered me.
Her eyes as cold as the merciless sea. Her hair golden.
And if she killed me... she's going to come after Mark. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but she will.
She wants to "clean up the damn queers," right?
Well this damn queer is about to turn her golden ass hair into a damn mop if she lays one finger on my husba—
Another loud thump jolts me back to reality. She could do it right now. She could fucking kill him. No witnesses.
No one except me.
I have to do something.
But I can't do anything. I'm a ghost.
Too bad being a ghost isn't like in the movies. I can't rattle my chains, or write a note, or kill someone.
Would I even kill her?
The obvious answer is yes. She killed me. She's going to kill my husband. But...
Nevermind. I won't kill her. All I have to do is warn my husband.
But how, goddamnit, how?
I slam my fist into the wall. Nothing. But I swear, I can hear my heart pounding, my blood rushing, almost as if I'm alive.
If she hurts him—
Behind me, something smashes.
A burglar, on top of everything else?
But there's no one there.
I stare at the smashed pieces, and then at my hands.
Could... could I have done that? After all this time, can I finally do something?
I grab the faucet of the sink, and I watch the water turn on.
I can. I can do this.
I can save Mark.
I love the feeling of my feet thudding on the floor. I feel real.
Until I walk past the mirror in my hallway and see blankness staring back at me.
Whatever. Not the point. I need to get to Mark.
Above me, something breaks.
It doesn't sound like they're having fun anymore.
Which is good, because even if they can't see me, I don't want to walk in on that.
Fuck, fuck, I have to hurry. Shitshitshit, I finally can do something and I'm going to be too late—
Slam. The door all but breaks open.
"What the fuck?" Goldilocks spins around, gun in hand, and puts two bullets in the door. "N- no one there."
But Mark... there's raw fear in his eyes. Angry fear.
"You did it, didn't you? I knew he wouldn't.... I knew it wasn't a suicide. It was you. All along."
"Give the queer a cookie," Sophie snarls. "Yes, I killed him. And I'm killing you. You're both abomi—"
I slam her into the wall.
Now both Mark and Sophie are screaming.
"Bitch," I snarl. "If you fucking touch him, I'll whip your damn ass."
Of course, she can't hear me. She screams and struggles against the wall. I pluck the gun from her hands like a feather from a chicken and push it across the floor.
With one hand on her hair, I march her to the door.
"And don't come back, you fucking nutcase!" I scream. I know she can't hear me, but it still feels good.
I get the feeling that she won't be coming back.
But right now, I don't care. Right now, I need to get to Mark.
I almost trip over the stairs. My body is becoming more real by the second, solidified by my rage.
No, I think. Not my rage.
Because this hateful bitch tried to steal my love away from me. She stole my life, but she couldn't steal him. She will never steal him.
"Mark?" I ask, praying he'll hear me. "Mark?"
Nothing. He can't hear me.
I push the door open, and Mark scrambles away from the door.
"Please, whatever you are, don't hurt me."
I stare at him, the skin around his eyes stained red with tears, and my heart breaks all over again.
"I would never hurt you, Mark."
"Holy shit," Mark whispers. "You... you won't hurt me. You... you saved me. From... from Sophie. You're— you're not evil. You're John. You're my John."
I'm a ghost. I can't speak. I can't sleep. I can't eat.
But I can cry, and I do so now.
He's safe. My Mark is safe.
"I'm sorry, Mark," I whisper. "I want you to be happy. I don't even know why I'm here. I wish... I wish things worked out. Between you and Olivia. I wish people weren't assholes. I wish... I wish I could say goodbye to you. Properly. But... I think I'm finished here. I think I can leave now. Hail a ghost taxi, or whatever. I just... I wish you could see me. One last time. Some... some closure, you know? I wish... I wish I could just say one last thing to you."
"John, can you come here for a second?"
I kneel down towards Mark, closing his hand in mine, and from the smile on his face I know he can feel it.
"Where's your face, John?"
"Smooth, Mark. Real smooth."
But I guide his hand towards my face anyway.
And we kiss. A kiss that transcends the boundaries between life and death.
A kiss that's everything I could have ever wanted. He tastes like closure. Like hope.
He'll be safe. I can go now.
"I love you," I whisper. His eyes widen.
"I love you too, John. And.. I... I heard you. One last time, I heard you. I... I don't know how I'm going to go on. I don't know if I'll ever love again. But... but I'll try. For you. And you'd better move on. Go to whatever afterlife awaits. Because whatever it is, I'll see you there. When it's my time."
I squeeze his hand, but this time, my fingers go right through. I'm fading.
But it's okay.
I said the only three words that matter. The only three words that mean anything.
I love you.
And as long as I got to say that, I'm golden.
Goodbye, Mark. I hope it's a long time before we see each other again.
I'll miss you. And I know... I know you'll miss me.
That's why, before I go, I'm typing this up. So that you can read it later, when you find it, and you'll know that no matter where you go after you die, I'll always be with you.