[Excerpt] Chapter 1: Reckoning

Trying something new. Feedback welcome.

Some people just don’t know what’s good for them. Do you know what I mean? Like, take Tara. She’d be hot if she tried. Or not even hot, just likeable.  But Tara doesn’t know how to try. Actually that’s not true either – she tries. Too hard. She wants to be liked, desperately – in the way that everyone can tell and everyone despises. It’s desperate. It’s needy. It’s asking to be ignored.  It’s like she feels shame about it but not enough of it to change any damn thing. There’s a stubbornness to her hard little unsmiling mouth. She has friends that she knows are not her real friends. She hangs out with them anyway, but she runs away crying sometimes. Her friends who are not her friends snicker at the lunch table. No one checks in on her.

Man, I fucking hate girls like Tara, I think viciously, watching her nibble her nail like it’s an after-school snack.  She’s waiting at the bus stand.

I stand in front of her and lean down a bit. “Boo,” I say and she pauses, mid-nibble. This is my favourite game. I do it to Martin and Lisa twice a month, at least. Why? Who the fuck cares why. In this place I can do whatever I want. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I like that they respond. I like that they remember because it feels good to be remembered. If I can’t move on, neither can they. It’s only been a few months. It’s only been… fuck I don’t know. Time is totally fucked up when you’re like this.

“Boo,” Tara says.

I smirk.

When they planted the tree in the school, that bitch Tara didn’t show up like the others did. Lisa cried. It hurt a little to see Martin with his grubby little paws all over her.  “Shh,” he whispered. “Shh.” She leaned into his shoulder and melodramatically wiped her snot on his sleeve. Her perfect hair fell over her perfect heart-shaped face. “Shh,” Martin kept saying, patting her head like she was a poodle.

“What the fuck, man,” I said in disbelief. Obviously he said nothing. Obviously I got angrier.  That was the first time, actually. I leaned in real close and screamed “What the fuck?!” in his face. He flinched.

“You ok?” Lisa said.

“No,” I said automatically. “No I am not fucking ok. I’m dead.”

“Yeah,” Martin said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Yeah I think a piece of dirt or mulch or something hit me.”

“Piece of shit,” I said, glaring at him. “You fucking piece of shit – my body’s not even cold yet.” Though, actually it was. It turns out bodies get cold pretty quickly after death. So. What a stupid turn of phrase. I wish I sounded tough or mean, but my voice totally cracked like a prepubescent kid who had less of a moustache than Tara –  because Lisa was holding his hand. Like, this tight grip. I don’t think she’d ever held my hand like that. I don’t even have a jaw but I swear to God, in that moment, it tightened. It’s just grief. Grief does stupid things.

“Lisa,” I said. “Lisa, come on. Look at me.” And she did. She always does to be honest. Months later, now, the novelty’s worn off. It’s a game now. I get her to look up, to remember, to take note. But that day by the tree I wanted… fuck if I know. But I reached over and brushed her hair so that it wasn’t over her eyes and it worked. Sort of. Her eyes widened as a small gust of wind pushed her hair back. Her eyes teared up again. Shit. There must be something fucking wrong with me but I enjoyed that a little bit – just because it meant she was still mine, you know? Yeah, hold her hand you prick Martin, she still knows me. She still feels me. I can still touch her.

She still loves me.

Does she? Turns out, when you’re dead, and a ghost, you still have a voice inside your nonexistent head.

Did she, ever? She never held your hand like that.  

After everyone had left, I sat by the tree for a bit. Cards everywhere. Flowers. Wreaths. Some kid I’d never talked to gave some tearful euology about how I was his inspiration for track. I rolled my eyes. Track. What a stupid metaphor for life. Run as fast as you can until you hit the finish line. Congrats! Death is the participation prize awarded to everyone who played Life.

So there I was, chilling with me and my cards. Being dead gives you lots of time to think. More on that later – because time is fucking wild when you’re dead. It just flies by. Or it freezes. Or it passes for some people and not for others. But there I was, trying to pick up Lisa’s card to read it  and knowing I couldn’t. See, there’s weird rules to this shit that I’m still working out. But basically, if it’s not a person, I can’t do shit. And – it doesn’t even work for all people. With the cards, I couldn’t even pick them up, read them, touch them – I couldn’t do a damn thing.

But Tara, what a royal cunt. She came by the tree after everyone else had left. It’s nice to be invisible; she couldn’t see me struggle to pick up the cards. I saw her small mean eyes. I saw her scan the slender trunk. She saw the cards. At one point, she looked like she was looking right at me, and she burst out laughing. I froze. She couldn’t…see me though. No one could. Could she?

“Go get your lip waxed, cunt” I yelled in her face. She didn’t react. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to trying to pick up Lisa’s card, but I felt Tara move closer to the tree.

When she reached for them I flung my arm out in front of her.  “Where do you think you’re going?” She froze. They always freeze. But she really froze – she stood still and leaned forward tilting her head, like she was really listening.

I leaned in close like I was going to kiss her cheek, and said “Turn around. Now.”

When the punch landed, I almost couldn’t believe it. I felt it before I saw it coming, a sharp no air in my lungs feeling.   She’d whipped her puny fist out and lashed in the air to find me. I stumbled back, all the air knocked out of my lungs.

How the fuck did she hit me? I rubbed my stomach and shook it off. Ghost rules were weird. Maybe others could hit me too. It’s not like they have guided tours in purgatory – which is where I imagined I was.

You don’t have lungs, my own stupid snide voice echoed in my thoughts. You don’t  really have a stomach. Do you really even have thoughts? Aren’t you just a thought now, a memory?

“Shut up,” I said, heart pounding. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up – “

“Shut up,” Tara said, out loud. We both froze. That was the first time Tara repeated shit I said.

Tara looked up, startled. Furtively, she glanced around to see if anyone heard her talking to herself. No one was around. She looked at her fist, confusion in her face. I reached out and touched her neck to get a read on her pulse. It was through the roof. When I touched her throat, she stood very still, and slowly brought up her hand and put it over mine. She swallowed hard. To anyone else looking, they would have seen a girl with her hand around her own throat.

“What the fuck?” I breathed.

I tried to move my hand and found I couldn’t. Tara swallowed hard. I felt it. She felt it. She wouldn’t let go of her own throat. She wouldn’t let go of my hand. And she took a step forward, forcing me to come with her.

A step forward. A step closer to my cards. Before she did it, I had a feeling where I just knew. I closed my eyes and sat in the dirt, my hand passing through hers. Spooky.

“You fucking bitch,” I screamed, tears pouring down my face once she was crouching. She froze again, hand hesitating before she picked up one of the cards. But she was going to do it. I knew she was gonna do it. I had already seen her do it. I had seen Tara years from now. I had seen Tara’s actions seconds from now.

And there was nothing I could do to stop her.

Quickly, she read Lisa’s card, and put it back in its place.

And then she read every single one, her nailbitten hands opening every single one.

Who the fuck reads a dead dude’s cards?

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