It was very late at night, but the room was still full of chatter and the clinking of cups. The glass chandelier reflected off of the polished tables; thick red carpets coated the floor and the occasional servant floated past in a pure-white uniform.
He was there on the side, dabbing sweat off his brow and nervously massaging the place where his right index finger used to be. He jumped at an offer of wine, nervously declined positions at a table, and every few minutes pulled out a large golden pocket watch. An excessive little bowler hat sat on his head, which he occasionally pushed at or adjusted.
The man was not a cruel man, harsh in the ways of cruel men. In fact, his will was rather weak and his naivety replaced any cleverness he may have had. A coward, in the blandest sense, sniveling at the heels of his more successful superiors.
“Anything to drink, sir?” offered a servant, tipping a cordial bow to him. He held out a tray full of glasses sparkling in shades of green.
“No… no, thank you,” blustered the man. “I’m just waiting for someone, er… Mr. Adams?”
“All guests shall arrive at nine,” said the servant with the air of having answered this question many times. “Until then, please, have a drink. You look terrified.”
“No… not terrified, not at all,” mumbled the man, but the servant did not seem to notice, and turned to walk away. He checked his watch again.
The people in their glittering clothes had turned towards the black door, waiting. Some looked apprehensive, others bored. One lady was scowling heavily, as though willing it to open.
“Well?” she said loudly. “Where are they?
“You must be patient,” said the same servant who had offered drinks to the little man by the door. “Waiting is a part of the ritual. As natural as breathing, at least for those who don’t breathe.” As he spoke his smile seemed to grow, slowly stretching across his cheekbones.
“We have been waiting an awfully long time,” said another woman, this one pauchy and dark-haired, her folds of skin caving in on itself and sagging across her dress. “Maybe there’s a way to speed this up a little, get them to come here sooner. I have children at home, after all.” She frowned at the massive black door.
“We all do!” protested a red-faced man with a large, sweating nose. He dabbed at his brow in agitation. “Why else would anyone be here if not for the sake of our young ones? I take that’s why you’re here,” he shot at the blond woman.
“Of course!” cried the woman. “My Marty needs his children, I want to tell him how they’ve grown!”
“Good woman,” said the red-faced man, nodding approvingly. “A parent does everything for his children.” He disappeared into the crowd.
The man decided his best strategy was to stare at the black door and hope it might magically open, and that his need would be enough to see him.
His heart raced. Please, Nico, he thought. Please...
As though answering him, the door flew open with a bang. A few people’s heads turned, but the majority kept their focus on food and drinks and light chatter.
The man gaped as a stream of people came through, pearly white and translucent, and weaving through the crowd. Only a few saw them. A red-headed woman stared at the small ghost of a girl, with a basset hound’s sad eyes and wispy hair in plaits. A man in a top hat and tails ran forward to embrace a gaunt, smiling ghost with burned and flayed skin.
The man watched it all, open-mouthed. Most of the guests didn’t even seem to notice that the doors were open, with more spirits flooding through it. Those who did hurried forward, tearful, to embrace their friends and loved ones. The others laughed at them for hugging the empty air.
If I can see them, thought the man by the door, then he must be…
“Hi George,” said a cheerful voice right by his ear. The man called George jumped and looked around.
Standing behind him was a slim ghost, with sleek hair and clever, dark eyes. He had died in a sharp suit with a rose in the lapel, and was younger than George- twenty or so. He grinned at George with all his teeth and with a shudder George saw that the smile was as menacing as it had been that awful night.
The moment George saw him, he fell to his knees, babbling frantically. People around him murmured in alarm, shuffling away from him and glancing around fervently to make sure there was someone else nearby to comfort him.
Nico looked on in disgust as George shook at his feet. “Really,” he said, his voice cold and the cheerfulness that had been on his features fading into anger, “five years since our last visit, and this is how you greet me? Where was the calm, confident-” he prodded George’s wide stomach with a silver toe, “thin man who told me he would do as I had so kindly asked? By this, I can only assume you bring unfortunate news.”
“I’m so sorry!” George wailed. “It’s gone, they took it away, and I don’t know where!”
“Gone?” said Nico sharply. “What do you mean ‘gone’?”
“Gone!” George choked. “It’s somewhere else, it was gone when I went there, someone took it!”
Nico glanced around at the other ghosts drifting through the crowd and at the few people who could see them, glancing curiously toward the moaning George, still begging for forgiveness. “Not here,” he muttered. He seized George by the upper arm and half-dragged, half-marched him through the crowd towards a wall.
“Wh- what-” George sputtered, but Nico ignored him, running faster and faster, not stopping, his snowy legs a blur-
Then, suddenly, they hit the wall and passed harmlessly through, George bouncing against Nico’s legs. He wheezed, tried to stand, and fell down against his companion.
They were in a different room from the one they had just exited. While the walls in the other room had been painted red and gold, the tables glass and the carpet scarlet, this room was much smaller, with faded blue wallpaper and a scrubbed linoleum floor. Tiny tables were scrunched against the walls. A waitress ambled up to them, her apron stained with old coffee.
“Wha’ can I do for you boys?” she asked, gum cracking between her teeth as she spoke.
“Table for two, please,” said Nico coolly, “and a napkin.”
He wasn’t transparent and pearly anymore, but more solid, as solid as he would have been in life. His skin had become slightly freckled, his hair curly and dark. The rose had crumpled and turned black in his lapel, the only thing about him that looked dead anymore.
“‘Course,” said the waitress, who was blushing. “This way, please.” She led them to a small spot by the window. Nico peeled George off of him and asked for two cups of tea and a tray of crumpets. She smiled at him blandly and walked away.
The second she had, Nico leaned forward and said, in a low voice, “How is it gone? Who took it? Tell me everything you know!”
“Do you remember when we were kids?” said George drowsily, staring at a packet of sugar. “We used to play make-believe in your backyard. We liked to play wizards and gods, I remember. You were always the god.”
Nico hissed, “This isn’t what you’re here for, George, this isn’t important! What went wrong with your mission?”
“Mission,” grunted George, now glaring at the spoon floating in his tea. “Always some sort of mission with you, can’t be content with anything, not even death.” He glowered at his teaspoon bitterly.
“Even though it was your fault,” Nico said sleekly. George flinched and Nico took the chance to barrel on. “George, I remember our childhood as well as you do, but this isn’t why you’ve come. I need information about the totem. It’s the only way-”
“That you can come back, I know,” said George, his shoulders slumping. “I know, Nico, spent the last twelve years of my life chasing it, haven’t I?” He looked tired, ill-worn. The point of his nose quivered. “You were always the god,” he repeated.
“George,” said Nico, with the air of trying to restrain himself, “what happened?”
George sighed and wiped his nose and began his story.
As he spoke, Nico’s eyes drifted from George’s face to his teacup to the window to the curves of the waitress. He picked up his teacup and grimaced at the way his fingers shone white clutched on the handle. George talked until the sun began to set, until the bright gold-red bled through the cracks of the city buildings, and the stars began to probe from the inky black. He talked as people faded in and out of the shop and the cups of stone-cold tea were replaced with wine glasses. When he was done, Nico was silent. He twirled a spoon between his fingers.
“Okay,” he said.
Their plan set, the two men stood to leave. The waitress hurried forward with a check. Nico looked to George with raised eyebrows, and the latter looked unhappy but stepped forward to pay it.
“You are lucky,” Nico said as they stepped through the walls again, “to be alive, my friend. Death is a great bore.” As he spoke, he kept his eyes carefully ahead. George looked at him with surprise, his great nose quivering.
“A bore? But I thought-”
“Thought what, George?” said Nico wearily. “Thought that we spent our time flying through the clouds, through the walls of this awful room?” He scowled at the glossy ceiling; they were back inside the carpeted dining hall.
“No, I suppose not,” said George, bemused. “But at least-”
“There is no excitement to be found,” said Nico bitterly. “No breath to fear for, no blood to spill, no damsels to swoon at your feet- too many of them await their husbands- and no excitement to be had in the thrill of risk. It’s all an easy game, any conquest hand-delivered to your front door, and any fine art perfectly sprung from your fingertips. Perhaps it seems a delight to you, but no. It is boring. Yes, you are lucky to be alive. I miss it as much as I miss breathing.”
“Oh,” said George, who felt foolish. “Of- of course.” How had he not guessed this was the reason for Nico’s desire for life? Nico never did anything for the pleasure of reward, but for the staving-off of boredom.
It made George think of something.
“That waiter,” George said abruptly. “Was that you?”
He gave him an irritated look. “Of course not. The gates hadn’t been opened yet, idiot.”
“Oh,” said George, blushing slightly. “Of course. I just thought he looked, uh, mighty like you.”
“Well, he wasn’t,” snapped Nico. He glared at the people and ghosts weaving around each other, family and friends alike. He thought of his own family and pictured the delight on their faces when he turned up announcing he had cheated death.
“Well,” said George, pulling an enormous gold pocket watch from his pocket and glancing at it, “I best be going.” He glanced at Nico hopefully, as though waiting for him to make some tearful goodbye. When he didn’t, he looked away in disappointment.
“Find the totem,” Nico said, swallowing. “Please. To make up for what you did.”
George couldn’t ignore the desperate light in those eyes, nor the guilt crawling in his stomach and backed away, nodding. As he turned to go, pushing through the crowd, something seemed to come to him. He turned around, looking at all the people, some embracing ghosts and others totally oblivious, chatting away and glancing occasionally at the doors to the Underworld.
“Nico,” he said. “Will those people- will they ever-” He gestured toward the ones who couldn’t see their family members.
Some of the gloom vanished from Nico’s face, and he began to laugh. “Oh George, of course not. They’ve been waiting here for centuries, haven’t they? Old as this room. No, they’ll be here for all of time. That’s what happens when you mess around with Death.” And still chuckling, he waved him away, ignoring the startled look on George’s face. He moved towards the exit, swallowing slightly.
Always the god, he thought.
The Daily Rag
“My son came back to life- and I don’t know how.” Marlee Adams, 78
In Fern’s Hollow, Virginia, Marlee Adams and her husband, Todd, fled the house in panic after their twenty-one year old son Nico appeared, after having buried him nearly fifteen years ago.
“I didn’t have a clue what was going on, how it was possible,” says Marlee. “Even now, it seems like a weird dream.”
Nico Adams died of a car accident while speeding on the highway with friend George Dankworth (36) who lost his right index finger in the accident. The two were strongly suspected to have been a part of the Walden-Street Massacre, an incident in which 11 people were shot and killed, one including the daughter of celebrity Odis Bryant. Unfortunately, Dankworth fled the scene of the accident and hasn’t been seen since. Police weren’t able to gather consistent evidence for the conviction of the two.
The strange Nico-apparition disappeared shortly after his parents fled the house, and police are looking into it. A witness managed to get a picture of the fleeing Mr. Adams and police have agreed it matches with previous images when he was alive (below).
Several witnesses account from seeing his body brutally mutilated at the scene of the accident, with three broken ribs, bloody gashes along his side, and a blow to the head with brains gushing out. Police agree that the photos match, only with one difference; the reincarnated Mr. Adams had a small gold necklace from which hung a carved totem, like that from Native American culture. Police are looking into the case now, but it remains unsure who or what the poor Adams’ saw. Continued on Page five.
Next, an in-depth discussion with President Traver: is it all a cover-up for his family problems?