Death Is Hard to Live With

Tim died in June but, after the funeral was over and everyone left, he started to get lonely. Even worse, the collar of the shirt he’d died in continued to be as itchy as it ever was. He spent his first few dead days wandering the graveyard where he’d been buried, hoping to meet a fellow ghost or phantom or spectre, but he found the place to be as desolate in death as it had been in life. Row after row of grey teeth shot up from the ground, emblazoned with last names and Born/Died dates, but there was nary a spook to be found.

It was a full week before Tim met his first dead person, an overweight ghost named Clyde. He’d been walking down the street, wondering why he was the only person who’d ever died and became into a ghost, when he rounded the corner and spied Clyde, a fellow apparition at last, licking an ice cream cone. Tim started to wonder how exactly this other ghost was holding an ice cream cone, when he realized that Clyde wasn’t actually holding it himself: there was a young woman standing beside him, holding a chocolate ice cream cone she had ostensibly purchased for herself, and here was Clyde licking it as though this was the most normal thing in the world.

“Hey, what the hell are you doing?”

Clyde took one last fat lick at the dribbling chocolate and turned to face Tim. He was a man in his forties, or at least he had been when he died, with a balding wisp of hair atop his head and a bloated body stuffed into a black-and-gold tracksuit. With a confused look on his face he replied, “What?”

Tim persevered. “I saw you, you were just licking that lady’s ice cream. How can you even taste it?”

“I don’t have to taste it now to remember what it tasted like before. Licking it just helps put me in the state of mind to recall better.”

Tim wasn’t quite sure how to respond, and so he rolled his eyes. It was something he’d hated seeing people do when he was alive, but he wasn’t anymore, so the whole social rulebook kind of went out the window.

“Lemme guess: newly dead?” Clyde smirked in a way that Tim did not appreciate one bit.

“What’s that got to do with it? Don’t try and change the subject.”

Clyde wiped his hands on his tracksuit and extended the left one to Tim. “Name’s Clyde; it happened to me about a year ago. Fell down the steps at a Saints game; trying to carry too many beers and wieners back to my seat, I guess. By the time I hit the bottom, well…” Rather than explain further, he grabbed the top of his head and pulled to the right. His neck bent about 90 degrees, until he was staring at Tim sideways.

“Jesus,” said Tim, “alright, I get it. Enough.” Clyde laughed and brought his head back up to where it normally ought to be.

“Man, you’re gonna have to get a stronger stomach. You’re dead for fuck’s sake!”

Tim began to bristle at this other man’s coarse language, but stopped. “Right… I keep forgetting that.” He sat down on the curb and held his head in his hands. The itchy shirt collar tickled his neck, but he couldn’t bring himself to scratch it.

“Aw, shit” said Clyde, and awkwardly shuffled his bulk until he too was seated; his legs were splayed out into the street, almost unbent at the knee. He patted Tim on the back as he let out a soft whimper. “Alright, that’s enough of that. You’re dead, get over it and figure out what to do with yourself. You don’t see anyone else weeping like a girl around here.”

Tim lifted his head from his hands. “I haven’t seen anyone else around here period. You’re the only other ghost I’ve actually met. How can that be?” He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his sweater. “Even the graveyard was empty.”

Clyde laughed. “Sheeyit, think about it for a second. Why in the hell would anyone wanna  hang around that creepy place? You’re dead! You can go anywhere, see anything, but instead you’re gonna camp out  in some park full of dead bodies?”

Tim thought about it for a second, and then said “Wow, you’re right. I’m a complete fucking idiot.” Clyde snorted, slapping him roughly on the back. As strange as it was, it felt nice to actually be touched by another human being. He held out his hand, saying “My name’s Tim; I choked to death on a cluster of raisins.” Clyde took Tim’s hand in his own, and began to shake violently with laughter. Tim turned red.

“I guess it’s not as glamorous as being King Klutz. How hard can it be to carry a tray?” Clyde whooped, slapping his knee mirthfully. In spite of himself, Tim began to laugh as well. His shirt collar began to itch again, but this time he wrenched the stuffy button-down up over his head and hurled it into the street. Sitting next to Clyde on the curb in his undershirt, he started to wonder if maybe death wasn’t the end of the world after all.


When I Turn

She did her best, but she was young. When her father sighed, she kissed his eyes and placed a wet towel on his forehead, felt the heat of his skin as she touched his restraints. He’d told her what to do, before the fever made it so he couldn’t speak; once he was dead, she was to ensure he stayed that way. No physical contact.

The sun sank in the sky, and the light that colored the workshop’s interior began to change. Now the room was white, and the father’s sweat sparkled. Now the room was yellow, and his mouth made soft sucking sounds. Now the room was orange, and his brow coiled like a viper. Now the room was red, his skin dry and loose, and he stopped making noise.

She knew he was dead, and it made her cry. Her hand drifted toward his workbench ghost-like, past the tin-snips and vicegrips, hovering over the little ball-peen hammer. She’d watched him knock the dents out of the old station wagon’s roof with it. Her fingers curled around its thin wooden handle. The redness of the room frightened her.

In the prolonged silence, the sudden sound of movement made her gasp; the hammer slipped and clattered on the poured concrete floor. She gazed at the table where her father lay, saw his still body begin to wriggle. His eyes never shut, never blinked, and his hands pulled at the restraints. They held, but he kept pulling. She edged nearer to the table.

His eyes locked onto her, and his mouth gaped into a dessicated rictus of teeth and tongue. She knelt to pick up the hammer and stood above his face, biting her lip. He tilted back on his head and reached for her with his eyes, with his teeth. She screamed, and brought the hammer down on his forehead as hard as she could like he’d told her to. The sound was an egg cracking inside the carton. Her father’s face was red.

She placed the hammer on the table and wiped a sniffle from her nose. Leaning over him and placing a hand on his cheek, she whispered something sweetly about how he’d be alright now, and how he was with Mom. She stroked the flesh of his face, felt it like sackcloth under her fingers.

The smell of her stimulated him and he gnashed his teeth, catching the skin of her finger and tearing. She screamed and ripped herself from his mouth, but his teeth wanted more. Grabbing the hammer from the table, she brought it down again and again until she didn’t see her father’s face anymore; all she saw was red.

Backing away from the table, she ran to the utility drawer and found the bungee cord she’d seen him use to strap down the generator when there’d still been fuel for the thing. She coiled it around her thumb, just below the knuckle, until the nail turned red. Then she reached for the tin-snips.