Oh f**k it’s Tuesday.
I did more writing this week than I have been getting in the last month or so, but it was all on a more personal project. My plan (PLN)was to share an excerpt of what I’ve been working on and also include some illustrations in my s****y ballpoint style but I chickened out at the last minute. I’m just not ready to share it and I sure as f**k am not good enough to illustrate it to my satisfaction. Instead here is an old video of me riding a mechanical bull…
… and here is a short story I wrote many a year ago. I have a vague intent to clean it up proper at some point, so feedback is welcome. Next week you’ll get a proper fresh post with proper drawings and s**t.
PS: Featured image is unrelated to anything.
Found among the effects of the late C. D. Stone, PhD: Philanthropist and founder of the Center to Assist the Persistent Deceased
OK, Kiddo. Here it is,
Until I looked in a mirror I didn’t know I had died. I still don’t know how it happened. It’s true, nobody thinks it could happen to them. But it does. People passing me on the street knew, and looking back now I think I could have put it together from the way they looked at me once and then turned away. I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there. I was gasping, unable to catch my breath. I was angry and hurt. Couldn’t they see I needed help? I thought I was going into shock or something.
I don’t know why the walking dead have no eyes. Corpses that die properly get to keep theirs, until they rot, anyway. But the ones who Stay, when they die their eyes just go away. Do they fade out of existence or get absorbed? Maybe they explode. I doubt that one, but I think it would make you laugh. The dead who hold on to consciousness can see but do so out of empty eye sockets. It makes as little sense as a walking corpse does to begin with. But that’s how everyone I passed on the street knew immediately to avoid me. There’s no internal sense of being dead but anyone can tell from the outside with a glance. I learned I had died when I looked at myself in the mirror of a McDonald’s restroom.
Maybe it would have helped if I could have remembered dying. I only remembered going out to buy some food and wine, then nothing until I was on the street and dead. Now the choking feeling made sense at least, breathing wasn’t something I did anymore. I stopped trying and that particular distress faded. Of course, not breathing is awful in its own way, you miss every breath you’re not taking. But at least it was quieter.
I didn’t for a second think there must be a mistake. As soon as I saw myself I knew it in my cold dead bones. Nobody thinks it could happen to them of course, but everybody has a roommate or a first cousin or a friend of a friend who knows a guy who knew a guy who died and Stayed. It’s like winning the worst possible lottery.
Nobody came into the restroom while I was there. I stayed a long time, too. In general people pretend the dead don’t exist and in time decomposition makes that true. A walking corpse is inherently a temporary problem and so living people usually look the other way. I looked like hell, eyes notwithstanding. My clothes and hair were both a mess, and when I smoothed them out I just looked paler and drier and deader.
You may not believe this, but contemplating mortality from the wrong end gets boring. It takes a while, and the pain and grief and woundedness of it stick around, but boredom creeps in eventually. So I took myself back out of the McDonald’s, and was hit with a realization just as sickening as being dead: I had no place to go. A dead person Stays rarely and when they do strangers ignore it and family hides the fact out of shame. Most people ignore the dead, but families have been known to stone, burn or dismember the walking body of their loved one. I remembered kissing my love as I left our apartment. He’d turn from me, or worse. Home was lost. Of course it was, I was dead.
As far as I know there is no standard behavior for the ones who Stay. No dead person, proper dead or conscious, has ever been returned to life. The ones who go home are usually stoned or burned or dismembered by ashamed family. Some try to be useful. That usually turns out funny; or sad depending on your point of view. One made headlines by going on a killing spree. Most dead people wind up wandering aimlessly, shunned, until they rot so thoroughly they can’t move any more. I wondered when -if ever- in the process of decaying into dust the self was eradicated. It’s supposed to happen at death, but how does it work when that’s not the case?. To think I might not exist was terrifying. But continuing to exist was also terrifying.
I was in a pretty bad neighborhood, which in Buffalo means a lot of people on the street. They all saw me and they all acted like they didn’t see me. I envied them. I decided to seek out my new peers.
Forest Lawn Cemetery is easy to break into. I did it a couple of times when I lived closer. But the gates were still open so I just walked in. Maybe nobody wants you around when you’re dead, but they’d rather pretend you don’t exist than tell you to go away. Or maybe the gate guard didn’t notice me. I wandered about the grounds, trying not to think or feel. When night fell I lay down on the grass and looked up through old pine branches at the stars. I told myself that the ache I felt was a typical reaction to the vast distances between the stars. For a second I believed it and that was a comfort.
Towards dawn a raccoon snuck up and started to nibble at my leg where it was bared by my skirt. It didn’t hurt at all, but I could feel as the skin and muscle were pulled away. When I swatted at him he went after my hand. Racoons know food when they see it, even if the food tries to protest. If I stayed put the city wildlife would make quick work of me. Was this better or infinitely worse than decomposition? I fled the thought and the raccoon. Again nobody challenged me at the gates.
It was Friday. I could go to work and pick up my paycheck. Someone would have to look at me if I did. But imagining it made me feel ashamed. I was so awful, now. What good would my check do me anyway? What I needed couldn’t be bought and what I could buy I had no use for anymore. But I decided to go get a coffee anyway. I just wanted one normal thing.
At a gas station across the street from the cemetery gates I filled a paper cup but the girl at the counter disappeared into the back of the store when she saw me approach so I had to leave a couple bucks on the counter.
Back on the sidewalk it was a bright morning. The coffee cup warmed my hand and the smell of it wafted up to me. I tried to block my cold flesh and the bites on my leg not bleeding and the overwhelming deadness of me. I took a sip.
When a living person consumes coffee a subtle dance occurs between mind and body and stimulus. There is biofeedback and salivation and whatnot all adding up to a satisfactory coffee experience. This was just wrong. Beyond the lack of taste and my dry mouth not closing properly so hot brown liquid dribbled down my chin there was the feeling of going against nature. And disrespecting a dead body. I leaned against the gas station wall, dry heaving. Then I threw the rest of the coffee at the front window. I saw the girl inside flinch and wished I had more to throw.
I stalked away hating the gas girl and everybody else who was alive. I cut through lawns, hoping some homeowner would come outside to protest. I slunk through Delaware park, glaring at the joggers with their glowing sweaty faces. If I knew a way to steal the life from them I would have done it in an instant. If I could have ripped them open and drunk from them I would have left a trail of husks in my wake. But there was no way and knowing it just made me want to kill them all the more.
I collapsed against a tree in a little wooded area. There was a playground to my right and a row of big old houses across the street in front of me. I wanted everything to be as dead and alone as I was, but I was too tired to lift a finger.
Presently a little boy came tearing out the front door of a Tudor style house. He made a big show of correct crosswalk operation and against all probability came directly up to me.
“Hey,” he said. “Are you dead?”
“That’s so cool! You’re my very first dead person.”
“Mine too.” My voice was a bit rough, but I was surprised I had a voice at all, really.
The kid thrust a flower at me. It was a fake daisy, like you might get at a craft store, or on a grave, of course. “Here. Dead people like flowers.”
It took me a second. Had I expected anyone to speak to me, this wasn’t how I would have guessed it would go, but I took the flower carefully and said “About as much as we like anything. This is right out of Frankenstein, you know.” He grinned but I don’t think he knew what I was talking about. He had freckles and a missing bottom incisor. His windbreaker was unzipped and waved a bit in the breeze.
“Does that hurt?” He was pointing at my face, where my eyes would have been.
I showed him my bitten leg. “Nothing hurts,” I said, “Not physically.”
“Can I touch you?” He was really excited.
I couldn’t see why not. “Okay. But go wash your hands after. It’s not healthy to touch dead meat.”
He pulled a sample bottle of hand sanitizer out of his coat pocket and made a face. “You’re like my mom. She says wash your hands after touching everything.”
He leaned so close that I could feel his breath on my lips. He put one finger on the edge of my eye, then inched it delicately in and probed the bone and muscle inside the orbit. After a minute he stepped back again and used the hand sanitizer. “You kinda smell.” he said, then added “I’m Craig.”
“Uh, sorry? I’m Maggie.”
“It’s ok. Have you been dead for a long time?”
“It happened yesterday, I think. Why aren’t you in school?”
“I got expelled. I stole Alex’s stupid doll and took its eyes out. It didn’t look as cool as a real dead person, though.” I suppose it wasn’t funny, but he made me grin, even though smiling felt illicit somehow. “What are you going to do? Are you going to see your funeral?”
“No.” I peered at him, squinting my eye holes and wondering how cool he would think it looked, “You want me to get lynched, don’t you?”
He only looked a little bit embarrassed. “Maybe. You should be my friend. Dead people are so cool. Mom will flip out if you come inside but you could be my pen pal. You’d be my dead lady.”
“I’m not sure that would work out too well”
“You’ve got to do something, don’t you? If you’re not going to go to your funeral, I mean. You should, though. Mom says when someone dies you gotta say goodbye. Who’s going to be there that you’re scared of? Your family?”
“Not them. They’ll come, probably. But I lived with, I had a boyfriend…” Improbably, tears rolled down my face, cold as the rest of me. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t think about him. I can’t. I can’t.”
He waited for me to calm down, then shifted to a topic more to his interest. “You’re going to get all maggoty. I read in a magazine that because your eyes are gone your face rots faster than a normal dead guy.”
“You only want me to write letters to you about rotting, don’t you?” Little punk.
“No!” He put on a good offended face, “Not just that! You could tell me all the stuff about being dead and I could write you about school and stuff.” His voice wobbled. “It would be neat. You’d like it.”
Poor kid. I ruffled his hair, “Oops, you should probably go take a bath– What the!”
And then I was being walloped with a broom because the kid’s mom had come to his rescue. I scrambled back and she dragged him back inside the house. The kid fought like a demon the whole way. I saw his face appear at an upstairs window. I got up, gave him a little wave and walked away.
I didn’t go far. Just under an overpass where I felt a bit more hidden. Talking had made me feel almost like a real person again. What should I do? And what could I do in the time I had left? I’d wasted a day already, and though it wasn’t summer yet the sun was warm, making some things grow and other things decay. I stayed hidden until it was fully dark, but I felt the press of every minute.
When I got to our apartment it was so late at night that it was nearly morning. His car was parked out front so I took care to make no noise at all as I let myself in. Things were already changing inside. Some of my things were packed away. So were some of his.
He was snoring in the bedroom. I didn’t want to look, but I did. He was balled up tight as far on his side of the bed as possible. My golden boy. He was everything that mattered. Everything I’d lost forever right in front of me. I could have crawled in next to him like everything was alright again. Like it wouldn’t break him to wake up with a monster in his bed. I turned away before I screamed.
I left the plastic daisy and also my purse with all my little day-to-day necessities and my I.D inside. I took a notebook and a few pens. I tore tore out one page to leave behind, filled with as much as I could write before I broke down. It wasn’t nearly enough but I tried. When someone dies you should say goodbye.
Since then I’ve stayed hidden. I’m sorry I’m not going to be much of a pen pal. Just one lousy letter and no gory details. It took all my time to write it all out.
Tonight I’m going to hide this in the shrubs by your door. I’ll try to hide it so it can be seen from kid height but not from mom height. This will be my last excursion into the world of living people, I think. I look pretty horrible now and walking is difficult so I need to find an out of the way place to wait for whatever happens next. I hope you get this. It’s the only way I have to say thank you.