by Moe Hashemi
(This story contains suicide.)
To bring the dead to life
Is no great magic.
Few are wholly dead:
Blow on a dead man’s embers
And a live flame will start.
—Robert Graves, “To Bring the Dead to Life”
“How are you feeling,” he says. No hellos or pleasantries, just a genuinely interested ‘how are you feeling?’
“Who is this?” I ask.
“You, of course!”
Prank call! I am about to hang up.
“I am you,” he says.
I realize he does weirdly sound like me.
“Look at your hands!” he adds.
I look down at my free hand. It disintegrates before my eyes, followed by the other hand, the receiver and the rest of me. Then the whole room crumples and shatters.
Everything is sucked into a dark hole.
The phone rings again. I rush out of the darkness and pick up the receiver.
“How are you feeling?”
“What is going on? What is this?”
“Not much! It’s only death.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We are dead!”
The room is vacuumed into nothingness.
Ringing again! I leave the darkness, but decide not to pick up. I pinch myself hard. It hurts! I examine the living room and the bedroom. My wife is snoring gently. I adjust her pillow, watch her for a while, then go into our daughter’s room. She is asleep in her bed hugging her teddy bear. I look around some more. Nothing seems out of place.
The phone keeps ringing. Why don’t they hear it? I stare at the phone, then grab the receiver.
“How are you feeling?” the voice enquires.
“Confused!” I confess.
“You will be all right. Acceptance is the key.”
“This is surreal.”
“Of course it is.”
“It never does. The real goes on, so does the surreal. Just embrace it!”
“No!” I bark, “I don’t bel…”
By the next phone call, I think I know the routine; I am wrong. Now, there is a big guy sleeping next to my much older wife in the bedroom. She is still wearing the necklace I bought her during our honeymoon.
I look inside my closet. It is full of the big guy’s clothes. I ransack the house for signs of my existence. On my teenage daughter’s nightstand, I find a picture of myself hugging my baby.
I pick up the phone.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like shit! Not much is left of me.”
“What did you expect? Life goes on buddy, with or without us.”
“What is this? Time travel?”
“We are outside time and place now.”
“This is bullshit! Go to hell!”
I hang up.
I begin to accept the ringing as part of my reality. I even feel thankful when the ringing snaps me out of the placeless realm. Now that I know the rules of the game, or lack of them, the outings don’t surprise me as much.
My wife is not around anymore; she is most likely dead, and my daughter is the same age as I was when I was killed. She still keeps our picture on her nightstand.
I try to hold longer conversations with the other me as he is my only source of interaction. He is wittier than me, and a bit more blunt.
“My daughter is kind of lonely, don’t you think? Will she ever find someone to make her happy? Will she ever settle down?”
“When she lost us, she decided not to hang onto anybody. She doesn’t like loss.”
“I am sorry!”
“Oh! So we think dying because someone got drunk and ran us over is our fault, now?”
“No! I mean … forget it! Why am I in this crazy loop?”
“Brilliant question! Why are we hanging around?”
“I am not. You are the one who pulls me out of the hat like a magic trick.”
“We are both the magic and the magician. Abracadabra!”
I hate the void.
I hear loud buzzing. Huge metal gates clang shut. I shudder. I’m standing next to him, the son of a bitch who killed me. He is walking out of jail.
“Why him? Why at this moment?”
“We will find the answer,” the other me assures me, unhelpfully.
I sit with my killer in a cab. The driver is faceless, like the mannequins in a display window, and so are the pedestrians outside. The cab makes a stop at a liquor store and then at a motel room.
My killer drops his duffel bag on a dirty armchair, sits on the edge of the bed and hugs his bottle of whiskey. He is in his early forties, with dishevelled salt-and-pepper hair and stubble on his chin. He sips his whiskey from time to time and stares at the opposite wall. He reeks of loneliness and alcohol.
He finally stands up, throws the bottle on the chair and empties his bag on the bed: a change of clothes in a plastic bag, a straight razor, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a small notebook stuffed with newspaper clippings. He looks up a number in the notebook, tosses it on the bed and calls an escort service. He then goes to the bathroom and shaves. There is a knock at the door. He opens it.
I step out into the void.
The motel room phone rings and rings. I am back in the room. The notebook is lying open on the bed to a clipping of the report about my death with my smiling picture under a maudlin headline. The bathroom door is ajar. I peek in. My killer is lying in the tub. The water in the tub is red. The razor is lying on the floor next to the tub. He is gazing straight at my direction. He smiles bitterly; I smile back. He mutters something and closes his eyes. I watch him until he stops breathing.
The phone is still ringing. I pick up.
“How are you feeling?” he asks.
“Poignantly sad!” I admit to myself, “Shouldn’t I feel happy?”
“Time to go!” he says.
We sometimes engage in deep discussions. Mostly, I do, and he leaves me with more questions, puzzles, and non-answers.
“We died too early!” I surprise myself by my plural ‘we’. His pronouns must be rubbing off on me.
“Would you rather we died too late?”
“I always wanted to go at a good time.”
“That is not an option. We either die too early or too late.”
“I wish I could go back. I could fix a couple of things and come back.”
“The world adjusted to not having us in it the moment we left. Going back only creates more chaos.”
I feel insignificant.
I realize now that part of me is indeed the magician that enables me to time travel. I might pop up anywhere, anytime and visit anyone my subconscious desires. But I only seem to visit people I have a memory of somewhere in my mind. Most of the time I visit those I cared about deeply; every now and then I end up with people I hardly knew in life, like the old man at a coffeeshop I had a chat with, or the kid I made a silly face to.
Sometimes I feel I am dreaming all of this. At other times it feels like the others are dreaming me and I drift along by their whims. What if I am evoked by the kid dreaming about the goofy guy making faces? What if my death is something that happened not to me, but to the people who knew me, a short-lived ripple in their otherwise routine life? What if my life was a dream and this is my reality? What if …?
“Some problems are solved better without reason and intellect,” he states.
“You mean I think too much?”
“I don’t really know. All I know is that I feel I am swimming against an impossibly swift current.”
“Why keep swimming then?”
“How do you know?”
I don’t. Maybe there is something beyond the dark. Maybe there isn’t. I cannot see the unseen, nor unsee the seen. I am sure about one thing: the pull of the seen is still strong. I am not ready to submit to the dark.
I hear the rhythmic beeping of a machine. I find myself in a dark hospital room. It is late at night. I look at the instruments next to the bed and then at the figure on the bed. I feel anxious. I peer. She is old, very old, and very familiar. I move closer and hold her hand.
“Hello Daddy,” she mutters, “Here you are at last! Take me with you!”
“No!” I shriek; no sound escapes. I try to pull my hand away, but she has an iron grip. She breathes deeply and goes out with a whimper.
The phone in her room rings. I rush to the phone and pick it up.
“Bring her back!” I beg.
“Time to go,” he says.
“I am tired of this game.”
“The game is over! There’s no one left to blow on your embers. … Let’s go!”
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story