I’d been dead for five years by the time I decided to stick my head back above the edge of the shallow grave that was Boise, Idaho.
Why I did it, I don’t know. Being dead had been good to me, far better than life ever had. My postmortem existence had freed me to feel alive, for once, rather than living in the constant shuddering shadow of my own looming mortality. I had a job, a dull one, hobbies too, meaningless ones, I ate at the local Waffle House every day and drank in the same bar every Friday where I answered the same questions and said the same things to the same people week after week after week after week. Purgatory to some, sanity to me.
So why go back? Why emerge from my forgotten grave and risk coming back to life? Not boredom, that’d be ungrateful y’see, I’ve never been so childish as to forget the blessing I found in that tedium. Curiosity? Perhaps. A poisonous sort of curiosity, the dangerous sort, the sort which bubbles out of nothing and grabs you for a moment, just long enough to take it’s toll, before leaving you to wonder why you’d ever cared enough to humour it in the first place. The type of curiosity that had probably killed the cat and which would almost certainly kill me but wisdom, as always, came too late and by the time I got smart to my mistake I was back in the land of the living – Chicago – a dead man walking once more.
The second I walked into Tyson’s Bar I could tell I was a zombie to those people. Old faces I knew from when I’d been alive gave me the sort of look people gave things that shouldn’t be. Hands reached for guns and cudgels and knives, shock fluidly translated into action as my face appeared flush with the colour of the newly resurrected. If I lacked the rotting flesh and stumbling gait that the dead should be expected to have there were plenty present there on that icy November night willing to make that right. I can’t even say I blame them, if they saw a man who shouldn’t be walking when they saw me then I reflected it from the other direction. It only took a second to realise how out of place I was, how much like a spectre, voyeuristically staring at the living I was. Their world wasn’t mine any more, I had a grave to return to and the intrusion was all my fault, not theirs. I should have been back in Boise, quietly rotting away in their memories, but here I was and with one foot in the door I didn’t even know if I could get away.
“It’s a shame to see you walking around.”
Sal was the barman, the first and only one to break the stunned silence. Laconic as ever he carried his own shock not into anger but into the all important role of being Sal, every ready with words to disarm and lines to remember.
“Figured I needed to stretch my legs, grave’s a cramped place.”
Sal nodded and sloppily poured me a whisky before clinking it down onto the bar. The others didn’t ease up, didn’t talk or smile or look at me as anything other than a dead man. They did let me walk over and place a hand around the glass though, whatever was inevitably coming they were content to let me and Sal go through the routine. Like a Witch Doctor he was speaking out the rituals that were necessary to put me back in the ground.
“Safe though, down there, there was worse things in this world than a bit of discomfort. That one’s on the house, by the way.”
I pulled my free hand back from my pocket where I’d been reaching for my wallet. Or a gun, I guess that’s what those behind me would have thought. I wasn’t packing though, like I said, it was curiosity that brought me back, dumb, random curiosity, nothing more malicious or meaningful than that. Besides, dead men don’t need protection do they?
“Thanks Sal” I downed the drink in one swift motion, trying not to gag as the unfamiliar fire ran down my throat. I’d stuck to beer in purgatory, I preferred it that way, but life was meant to sting a little I figured.
“Did you make it to my funeral?”
He nodded, bulldog face taciturn and formal, body relaxed but only so as to be out of arms reach from the zombie in front of him.
“Yeah, was a quiet one, your Ma threw herself in after the box. Didn’t have the heart to tell her they never found your body.”
My turn to nod, like the rest of the vital, living world she seemed a long way away. I felt sad for her, losing her only son, but these things happen and unlike me she was religious, at least she could imagine me in whatever heaven made sense to her.
“And the wake? Anyone turn up?”
“A few. You did good, going out when you did, made it easier for people to remember who you were, instead of what you did.”
I shook the glass for another drink, Sal shook his head in a sad refusal. Smiling I put the glass back down. There was some upside to my curiosity then, some people at least had remembered me for who I was, rather than what I’d done. It was a nice last thought, a comforting one, certainly better than the fear and anguish that had come when I’d died the first time. It almost made the shudder of pain from the first blow to hit me from behind bearable.
I won’t go back to purgatory this time, I thought as unconsciousness and more crushing blows fell on me. I won’t go back to Boise.
For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. All ideal escapes from 2016 and, if you time the reading right, you can dodge a chunk of 2017 too just in case…