“Well, I have to be honest. This isn’t what I was expecting.”
I watch as paramedics desperately try to save the life I took.
One of them, a man who looks like he was pulled from a magazine cover, is pumping frantically on my chest and counting as another, a young woman who can’t be over twenty, works the bag that they have over my mouth every thirty compressions from inside my bathtub. Meanwhile we’ve got another two, an older white gentleman with silver hair and penchant for colorful language, and an African American with a head shaved so cleanly that the fluorescents of my bathroom bulbs occasionally glint into the older one’s eyes. You can tell because the older one winces and mutters a string of even more colorful curses each time it happens. They’re each working diligently on a wrist, trying to stop the bleeding. I want to tap them on the shoulder and let them know that I’m impressed, and maybe even a little touched, by their effort, but it’s too late. I feel especially sorry for the black guy because he’s been trying to wrap my left wrist while mounted on my toilet for the last few minutes.
Sorry, guys. I couldn’t afford a bigger place.
Maybe I should have killed myself in the living room? That seemed inconsiderate to the landlord. I figured blood would be harder to get out of carpet than it would be linoleum. Besides, the bathroom is the room you do this sort of thing in, isn’t it? You hear someone slit their wrists in the bathroom and it makes a sort of sense. You hear the same story, only it took place in the living room or a bedroom or something, and it just seems weird or creepier somehow.
Oh well. What’s done is done. Which is the same conclusion I think these poor people have come to as well, because they’ve stopped their frantic ER routine now and are looking like whipped puppies. The older man is still cursing as he walks from the room. The younger girl is crying a bit, as the magazine model holds her. I’m guessing I was her first suicide.
The black guy just looks mildly disgusted as he stares down at my body. He mutters, “What a waste,” as he follows the old man out the bathroom door.
Story of my life, pal. They should put that on my tombstone.
From beside me, the other spirit asks, “What were you expecting?”
“A minute ago you said ‘This isn’t what I was expecting.’ What were you expecting?”
I shrug, which seems an odd gesture now, considering that I don’t have a body anymore. Mortal habits die hard. “I guess I don’t really know. A bright, white light? Complete darkness? Nothingness? I’m not really religious, and I never really bought into the Heaven and Hell stuff, so I guess I never really had a solid idea as to what would happen after it was over. I just didn’t count on standing over my own body, watching myself die while some poor schmucks tried to save the life I just threw away. I especially didn’t count on watching it with another…spirit, or whatever you are.”
He nods with my comments, and when I finish he mutters, “Yeah man, totally. Been there.”
I arch an eyebrow. “What, so you’re just another dead stiff, too? You’re not an angel or anything?”
He laughs. “Me? Oh, Hell no! Ha! If I were, how screwed would you be?!”
He laughs for a few more seconds while I grow increasingly nervous. When he sees that I’m not laughing with him he sobers and continues, “No dude, I’m just another spirit rocking the limbo plane with the rest of us. But it’s a common courtesy that when one of us kicks it that there’s someone there to help with the transition, you know? We try to look out for each other. Tell new people the basics so they aren’t just left holding the bag by themselves and end up becoming a poltergeist or some crap like you hear about on T.V.”
I go to run my hand through my hair, a nervous gesture I used to have; only I don’t have hair anymore. I stop mid-way, realizing how stupid I must look, and lower my “hand”. “Okay, so if you’re here to give me the ‘ghost 101’ class could we do it someplace else?” I nod towards my body, which is now being photographed by police officers as they do their best to avoid the rivers of smeared crimson covering my bathroom floor. “This is a little…weird.”
“Oh! Yeah, sure man. Duh!” He moves to slap his forehead and instead kinda displaces his own face for a second, like a hand moving through smoke. It is the strangest thing I’ve seen yet. “Just follow me!”
And then he floats through the friggin ceiling.
I stand there for a few moments, both exasperated that even in death I seem to get the short end of the proverbial stick, and wondering how long it’ll take the moron to realize that I haven’t followed him. Sure enough, about a minute later he sticks his head back through the ceiling to look down at me. “I’m so sorry, dude! I’d forget my own head if it weren’t corporally attached! All you gotta do is think it man. Will yourself to move and you’ll do it. It’s weird at first, but trust me, it’ll work.”
Weird. Trust you. Right.
I feel like a complete moron, but I try it. I look up at the blue-white ghost-head that’s staring at me and try to imagine myself floating up to where he is. Just when I’m about to tell the idiot that he can take his ghost lessons and shove them up his smoky butthole I realize that I’m almost close enough to head-butt him. A moment later and we’re both in the apartment above mine and watching as Mrs. Vandervall knits whatever hellish creation she’s working on this month as her army of cats continues to desecrate her living space. Then we’re through that floor and onto the next, and so on until we’ve reached the roof. It’s a beautiful day out. The sky is a clear blue without a hint of clouds, and the sun makes my ghost escort glisten.
No, I refuse to make a Twilight joke. I may have committed suicide, but I still have some pride.
My escort lies down on the roof and sighs contentedly. “Ahh, much better, yeah?”
I nod and sit next to him, wondering if I’m just going to fall through. I don’t. Score one for the home team. I turn my head to him. “So, do you have a name, or do I just call you Casper?”
He glances up at me, confused. “Huh? Oh!” He chuckles. “Casper. Hey, you’re a pretty funny dude! No, my name is Riley.”
Of course it is.
I keep expecting him to pull out a joint from his ghost pockets and offer me a toke. Then all we’d be missing is bongo drums. I’d bet money that Riley had dreads in his previous life.
“Hello, Riley. My name is David.”
He waves at me like an excited five year old.
If there is a God, he’s laughing his ass off at me right now.
I sigh and resist the urge to roll my eyes. “So, Riley, Ghosting 101?”
“Huh? Oh! Yeah! So, uh, welcome to the afterlife. Or I guess the pre-afterlife. Or something.”
Well, we’re certainly off to a wonderful start.
He grins like an idiot. “No problemo! Now, we’ve already covered how you get around… Mike gave me a list of crap to talk about but I always forget…”
“Oh! Yeah, Mike. He’s kinda like the guy in charge around here. He’s the one that tells us when we need to go see someone like you and give them the 4-1-1.”
“And he sent you to me. Sounds like a swell guy.”
Apparently, Riley isn’t good with sarcasm. We’ll add it to the list. He smiles even wider and says with complete sincerity, “Thanks, man. I think you’re pretty great yourself.”
At this point I’d kill myself again if I thought it’d do any good.
Riley continues, “Well, I can’t remember the list, exactly, but the most important thing you need to know about is moving on.”
“’Moving on?’ You mean this isn’t it?”
“Oh, no, man! This here is what they call limbo. This is the plane between life and the afterlife.”
“The afterlife…as in Heaven? Hell? Sheol? Valhalla? ”
He laughs and slaps at his knee, which again just displaces like smoke. “Hell if I know, dude! No one can really tell me for sure what goes on after. All I know is it’s important that we get there and that we don’t hang around in limbo for too long.”
“Why not? This doesn’t seem so bad, present company excluded.”
“Well, because spirits that hang around limbo too long tend to go a little loony toons, ya know?” He whirls a finger next to his head in the common “crazy” pantomime gesture. “All those scary ghosts that you hear about, those are the ones that didn’t or couldn’t move on.”
“Okay, so what do we have to do to move on?”
“Good question! I have no idea.”
“Riley, have you been a spirit a long time?”
“Me? Nawww.” He shakes his head for a moment, then, as if I can actually see a light bulb go off, he laughs. “Oh, you’re joking with me! Ha! No, sorry dude, it’s just that it’s different for everyone. You gotta make up for past mistakes, or settle unfinished business, or whatever, and when you do you’re done and can move on. C’mon, dude. Didn’t you ever see Being Human?”
I sigh. “I must have missed it.”
“Too bad, dude. Awesome show. Witwer kills it! I hear the UK version is better, but whatever. USA all the way is what I always say. Hey, that rhymes! Which reminds me of this other show I like that was about…”
I never thought it would be possible to be depressed after you’re already dead.
Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013
All rights reserved
All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.