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Horror Funny Sad

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[Warning: Language. Mention of Dead People.]



You know those films where people are too stupid to realize they’re dead? I’ve got the opposite problem: people are too stupid to realize I’m dead.

“What do you mean by ‘dead’?” Her voice like an ad for benevolent neutrality.

“I mean dead as opposed to alive. How many meanings are there to ‘dead’?”

“It can have several meanings” says she, ever so cool. “Why choose this one?”

Note to self: never get into a war of words with a shrink.

“Choice has nothing to do with it,” I spit out. “If I could choose, I would choose not to be dead, you know? Ask anyone on the passenger seat of a car wreck.”

“You mean you think you should have died.”

“I mean everything I’ve said. You just don’t walk from a scene like that and live.”

“Maybe you were lucky.”

“I keep hearing how lucky I am. How grateful I should be.”

“Nicholas.” She leans forward: “Do you know what ‘survivor’s guilt’ means?”

She must think I’m a moron. I’m tempted to say that I don’t watch reality shows. She’s in her early thirties and has the experience to go with it. In extremely different circumstances I might fancy her if she didn’t have such a knack to get on my system. I just glare at her, and she wisely changes the subject.

“Your parents tell me you haven’t been eating.”

“And what does that tell you?”

Carefully neutral silence on her side.

“I’m not eating on the sly, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”

“I’m not insinuating anything,” she says, with that same irritating smoothness. “But you’ve got to admit that no one can live without eating.”

“Glad you’re seeing my point at last,” I say with all the sarcasm I can muster.


*


I don’t eat on the sly. I’m just not hungry.

I’m not sleepy either.

I’m neither hot nor cold. Or if I am, I don’t feel it.

I don’t feel my right arm either, even though it was half torn from its socket.

I don’t hurt anymore, except inside.

I drift in and out of scenes, like in a film. At night I lay awake in bed, waiting for the hours to pass. Wondering if this is hell or purgatory.


*


At first, Mom was sympathetic. “Of course,” she’d say when I refused to eat. Then her mom instinct took over: “Just a little, darling. You need to –“

“Leave the boy alone,” my father would say. They were both very good at pretending to understand.

After a few days, the shock excuse wore thin.

“Are you anorexic?” Mom asked. I had to laugh. Anorexia would be the least of my problems.

“You’re going to fall sick,” she said.

“I can’t fall sick,” I reminded her, “I’m dead.”

“This is getting neurotic,” my father said, clearly over the sympathy thing.

“Denial” she said, as if it explained everything. Meanwhile, she’s the one talking to dead people. “Your father and I think you should see a doctor.”

“You know a good resurrectionist?”

That’s how I ended up on the shrink’s couch.


*


Now everyone thinks they’re a therapist. Including my friend Mitch.

“If you’re dead,” Mitch says, “how come you're still around?”

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers, OK?” I snap. “Just because I’m dead and still talking to you doesn’t make me Jesus.”

“Doesn’t make you Bruce Willis either,” he says. “Let me show you something, Nick.”

I know where he’s taking me, just as I know it’s no use arguing.

“What does it say here?” he asks when we get there.

“I can’t read, I’m dead.”

I can still read, of course. I just want to piss him off as much as he does me.

Determined to piss me off back, he reads out loud: “Javier, beloved son, etc. So how come he’s got a headstone and you don’t?”

“Same way he had a girlfriend and I don’t?”

“Next you’ll be saying he was the lucky one.”

“At least he hasn’t got everyone telling him he’s bonkers.”

“If you’re not crazy, where’s Javier then?”

“In heaven?”

Sarcasm-proof Mitch persists: “And why aren’t you?”

“Because I’m in hell? That would explain why I’m stuck with you.”

He forces a laugh but it’s an uncomfortable truth that he has become my best friend by defect. Only in a world without Javier would I consider hanging with Mitch.

“Well, there’s one upside to that,” he finally says with phony cheerfulness: “If you’re dead, you can do what the fuck you want to.”

“Except live,” I remind him.


*


There’s a line running in my head, that could be from a song or a poem but I can’t remember which: “Is there anything sadder than dying before you reach 20?” Dying a virgin, I guess.

Of course, some would say – have said for centuries, in fact – that dying a virgin is almost as good as dying a saint in the Heaven’s sweepstakes. Note that those who said this weren’t dead and few, I suspect, were virgins.

Surely at some point it will dawn on people that I’m not getting any older. Maybe they’ll start taking me seriously then.

Then what? A future under the glares of cameras or operating tables as doctors go around doing …what exactly? What would they do to someone they know cannot die? And now I see myself, or pieces of myself being wheeled in a courthouse while lawyers on both sides spar about the extensions of rights to “non-living organisms” and the legal definition of “suffering”.

That French guy sure got it right when he wrote about hell being other people. Maybe he only faked being alive because he knew what was best for him.

Which makes me wonder: are there others like me? And if so, do they keep a low profile because they only know too well what would happen to them if they went public? How many of us are really dead inside as we pass each other daily, pretending to lead normal lives, to be content with our lot?

And how do we find each other? Should I put an ad online: “Dead Teen Seeks Same”? I’d have to weed out all the goths, not to mention (shudder) necrophiliacs – though at least this might solve the virginity problem.


*


“Hey faggot!”

Now I wish I was not just dead but buried.

Steve has been my nemesis ever since grade school. The kind of guy who was born to be a bully because God in His infinite wisdom granted a talent to everyone and when Steve’s turn came, this was all He had left in store. On that respect, you’ve got to hand it to good old Steve: he makes the most of what he was given. Every move of his seems designed to advertise the moron ahead, like a warning sign or PSA.

“Hey fag!”

I stop, just so he won’t think I’m running away.

“Is it true you think you’re dead?” he goes on. “Why don’t you prove it and jump off that bridge?”

“You first,” I say.

“What are you, scared?”

“Right, but I’ll do it if you hold my hand.”

“Is that what you told your boyfriend? I hear you were sucking his dick when –”

I walk up to him and only stop when I’m one inch from his face.

“You’re a moron who thinks he looks like Elvis,” I say. “And you do. You look like Elvis when he last sat on a toilet.”

This is a bit too much for his brain and ego to process all at once but he manages eventually.

“Better pray you’re dead, motherfucker,” he says. “Cause I’m gonna kill you.”

“And I should give a fuck because…?”

Now he looks at me with a disgusted look as if I had just spoiled his fun.

“And by the way?” I go on: “You know where we were driving from that night? Your girlfriend’s place. Had the best threesome of our lives. At least you can say we ended it with a bang.”

“Liar” he says, with such uncertainty I feel vindicated as I walk off.


*


The truth is neither Javier nor I got it on with Sandra, though that was really a question of timing. Sandra was still Steve’s girl officially, a mistake she seemed hell-bent on correcting that evening. When we arrived, Javier asked politely where her boyfriend was and she said: “Just left” in such a definite tone that the atmosphere relaxed instantly. Before long, Sandra and Javier were an item in the making and I was doing my best to help the process with my cocktail experiments.

Of course the fact that I was making us drunker with each round has a lot to do with what happened later on and why I am where I am today.

Granted, I don’t remember everything but that’s what you get when you mix vodka, gin and anything you can get your hands on. At some point Sandra had one hand in Javier’s and the other in mine and trying to make them fit like two Lego pieces. So basically here we were, Javier and I, holding hands with Sandra’s blessing: “Your hands go so well together.” Hers covering ours, his squeezing mine. Sandra and Javier touching heads and I couldn’t decide which was more beautiful. Like two halves of the same thing when you want it all.


*


If I had known this was our last evening, I would have gone for it. Wouldn’t have bothered with getting us drunk, just gone for it.

Then again, if we hadn’t gotten drunk, it wouldn’t have been our last evening.


*


“What do you remember?” I’ve been asked repeatedly.

It’s funny how you don’t remember some of the most important moments in your life. You don’t remember the moment you were born and, judging from my experience, you don’t remember the moment you died.

I remember Sandra’s father coming home unexpectedly early, pissed at the raid on his liquor cabinet and putting a premature end to the evening’s festivities as he threw us out.

I remember Javier and I in the car going faster and faster as we laughed hysterically.

Then nothing.

I remember stumbling out of the car, holding my right arm with my left to keep it from falling.

And the sticky stuff soaking my feet until I realized it was coming out of me.

I remember falling on the asphalt.

We’re losing him.

Lights on the ceiling flashing past me. Me on my back. Can’t move. Can’t breathe.

We’re losing him!

Silence.

Then later, being told Javier didn’t make it: “You were very lucky.”

As lucky as can be when all your luck is gone.


*


There were so many things I had never done, being too busy worrying about it to actually do them. Now I wonder if this is what hell is actually like: an eternity of regrets.

If I had known I was going to die so young, I would have ran naked in the street just for fun.

And told everyone to kiss my ass.

I would have robbed a bank and not let anyone stop me.

I could actually rob a bank and not let anyone stop me.

This is when I decide to rob a bank.

A stupid idea maybe, but you only die once.


*


Of course, the bank has to be closed today of all days so I settle for old Martin’s drugstore. An inspired choice, actually. Old Martin, who sells just about anything that people will pay cash for, doesn’t believe in banks or credit cards and openly despises those who do. He’s a cranky old fart who will yell at you if you don’t have the exact change, the kind to keep his savings under the mattress: in short, the perfect target. I can either get rich or not die trying, which would at least prove my point.

This is the kind of thinking that always gets me in trouble, part of my brain screams at me, but it’s the part I keep at the very back of my head, where I’ve stored all the unpleasantness and stuff I learned in school.


*


The gun I swiped from the accessories at the school drama club but old Martin has no way of knowing it’s fake. At least I hope so cause when he whips out his own shotgun from behind the counter, I can tell he’s itching to use it.

“What did you say, you punk?”

I have to remind myself that I’m already dead and technically he can’t kill me again. I swallow hard and try again: “Empty your safe into the bag and you won’t be –”

“You’ve got ten seconds to get out of this store before I start shooting.”

“All right,” I say and drop the gun. “Just give me those ten seconds, okay?” He lowers the shotgun. And while he’s got both hands full with it, I grab the cash register and run towards the door.

The first shot explodes the glass door, which actually saves me the chore of opening it with one arm useless and the other holding the cash register. As I jump through the shattered glass, a second bullet grazes my head and a tiny pink thing flies off and lands at my feet and I have just enough time to register it’s part of my left ear.

He chases after me, as bullets fly by. I feel the impact of one in my back and realize he’s shooting to kill. God knows what he will do when he finds out he can’t, and on that thought I double up speed.

I run into a side street where I can hope to lose him, and smack into good old Steve. For once his brain doesn’t take forever to assess the situation, or maybe he’s genetically wired to discern trouble. “I’ve got him!” he yells, barring me with his large frame. “Let me go, you asshole” I mumble, trying to dodge under his arm just as old Martin turns the corner and shoots.

The bullet gets Steve right in the face. The three of us stand frozen as if someone hit pause. For a second, Steve looks like he can’t believe he only got half a head left before he crumbles at my feet. Old Martin looks shocked as if he can’t believe he’s just fulfilled a lifelong ambition. He alternates stares at Steve’s body and at his shotgun, trying to either figure out or deny the correlation between the two. I can’t help feeling sorry for him. Then he turns on his heels and takes off, either to turn himself in or blow his own head off.

Something grabs my ankle.

I look down. Steve is hoisting himself up. He looks even uglier with half his face gone. Part of his brain is leaking down one side, putting to rest the notion that he lacks one. Slowly he stands up, looking at me with his one left eye, and his grin is even nastier than when he was alive.

“You’re gonna pay for this, motherfucker.”

For once, I know he’s right. An eternity with Steve of all people. Somewhere, I suspect, that French writer must be laughing his head off.


*


I open my eyes to darkness.

It’s so hot and stuffy I can hardly breathe.

Breathe. Something I thought I’d never do again.

As usual when coming out of a nightmare, it takes a moment to settle in. I try to get up when pain shoots through my arm. My right arm, mangled from the accident. I’m feeling pain again and even that is such a relief I want to laugh at the sheer beauty of hurting, of breathing hard, of being too hot and sweaty, of being alive. Of being awake. Even a bad dream has its good side when it stops.

And now I hear voices outside and my heart leaps with joy when I understand what woke me. Javier’s voice. He’s alive too. And valid, judging from the sound of footsteps on gravel as his voice fades away. He came to visit me at the hospital, I realize. I try to get up and find a light switch with my left hand.

My fingers only find the wall. I jerk my head up and bang it against something hard, as if the ceiling was as low as –

Suddenly I understand why it’s so dark, hot and stuffy.

This is no hospital.

It’s a coffin.


Panic as I bang as hard as I can with my left hand. “Help!” I scream with what little air I have left. I should save it before all the oxygen is used up, I realize now, but the thought only makes me panic even more. “Help! Get me out of here! I’m alive! I’m alive!”


*


“Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“That noise…”

“Must be the wind.”

“It wasn't the wind," she says. "It sounded like knocking... and I thought I heard someone calling out…”

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” He clowns around to hide his feelings. So many feelings to hide.

“Stop it!” She smiles. “And my name is not Barbara.”

“I know, it’s just –”

“Don’t tell me: one of your silly horror movies again?”

Javier smiles but Sandra sees the pain in his eyes. She squeezes his arm, knowing words are useless.

“Let’s go,” she says, and leads him gently towards the exit.

It has to be the wind in the trees. Maybe this is what they call survivor’s guilt, he thinks. He won’t tell her, but he thought he heard something too. Survivor’s guilt, he repeats to himself. As they leave the cemetery, the knocking sound seems to echo in his head – and with it the memory of a once-familiar voice, now fading away : “I’m alive… alive...”

July 19, 2022 10:17

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23 comments

Yves. ♙
08:04 Aug 07, 2022

A million twists! Absolutely hooked at that opening; how can someone be dead but not dead? And you followed through with a real roller-coaster of a story. Thanks for sharing!

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Patrick Samuel
12:26 Aug 11, 2022

Thank you for the compliments, Yves. Maybe I'm a bit twisted myself but there's nothing I love more than twists - in the fiction I write as much as the one I read. Glad this worked for you!

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Raluca .
16:55 Aug 03, 2022

This text was such a nice collage! I didn't expect it to end that way (even if we knew he was dead) thanks to the beginning of the story. It has a very nice flow, even with the * stops. Can't wait to read more!

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Patrick Samuel
12:20 Aug 04, 2022

Thank you Raluca! I'm glad the flow drew you in. I actually switched around some of the early paragraphs as I was concerned about how they gelled together. Glad it worked for you.

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Ruth Porritt
09:56 Sep 12, 2022

Hello Patrick, This story is also wonderful. I greatly wish that I had written the following lines: "Steve has been my nemesis ever since grade school. The kind of guy who was born to be a bully because God in His infinite wisdom granted a talent to everyone and when Steve’s turn came, this was all He had left in store." I am still laughing at the humor in this part of the story. :) Next, these closing lines are perfect: [As they leave the cemetery, the knocking sound seems to echo in his head – and with it the memory of a once-familiar...

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Patrick Samuel
15:18 Sep 25, 2022

Thank you Ruth. The Steve line I enjoyed writing, maybe because I met too many of them. I'm glad you appreciated the ending. I worked on those closing lines like a castle of cards, making sure to pile on the information without it crumbling.

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Michał Przywara
20:41 Jul 28, 2022

This was a very fun story. Others have mentioned it, but I'll add my voice to the mix: good opener and fantastic premise, being dead and nobody else realizing it. The story is basically funny, except it has that lovely horror ending. And the more I think about it, the more I like the ending. It's ambiguous. On the surface it looks like they attribute his calls to survivor's guilt, and assume they were imaginary. That's tragic, as the narrator dies a horrible, preventable death. But if we look closer, we have Javier think: "He won’t tell ...

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Patrick Samuel
22:07 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you for your very astute comment, Michal. You have indeed picked up on the ambiguity of the ending, which reflects the ambiguity of Javier and Nick's relationship. My early draft had an episode exploring the extent of that ambiguity, which I had to discard to make the word count. You can still find hints of it when they hold hands with Sandra's "blessing". But it definitely colored the ending, which can be read as Javier wanting to bury the past and anything about it that he can't come to terms with. Glad you appreciated the "dead in...

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02:10 Jul 28, 2022

I think Mitch was becoming his best friend by default, not 'defect'. Very dark and very witty. All along he must have been subconsciously knowing he was not really dead but in the land of the dead (about to be buried). Yet he believed himself dead while in the land of the living. Waking up in a coffin, buried, The creepiest outcome of all. I don't like profanity, or mention of the living dead, but had to keep reading. Totally hooked. And so many true-isms wrapped up in a zany sense of humor.

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Patrick Samuel
10:30 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you Kaitlyn. Out of respect for your dislike of profanity, I will refrain from swearing about that "defect" mistake. Thank you for pointing it out to me. Too late to edit it, so we'll just pretend the "defect" is more of Nick's sarcasm about his "new (imperfect) best friend", shall we? Anyway, I'm glad the story hooked you despite your reservations. I believe that's the best compliment.

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Kathleen Fine
22:18 Jul 27, 2022

What a unique take on the prompt! Great writing - I like how you incorporated humor and horror all wrapped in one;)

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Patrick Samuel
10:35 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you, Kathleen. Even though you can't always tell from my stories, I tend to include humor in the most inappropriate places, including horror. (You should see the e-mails I fire off when I'm pissed off. Most people end up laughing even when I don't mean them to.) By coincidence, Critique Circle suggested I review your story this week. I'm glad they did, as it was one of the most touching things I've read recently. Thank you for that too!

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T.S.A. Maiven
05:41 Jul 27, 2022

I really liked the concept of the character thinking he was dead. and the ending with 'survivors guilt' fit really well. I liked it.

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Patrick Samuel
10:18 Jul 27, 2022

Thank you! The "survivor's guilt" at the end was a late addiction, intended to make things clearer but when I thought of it, it did fit so neatly I almost considered it for the title. Sometimes it's the little pieces of the puzzle that make the big picture.

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T.S.A. Maiven
20:50 Jul 30, 2022

Sometimes it's the little pieces of the puzzle that make the big picture. Totally agree!

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Kelsey H
09:36 Jul 24, 2022

I love the opening of this, such a great hook. A character who thinks he is dead while everyone else thinks he is alive is such a great concept. (loved the reference to Sixth Sense too). I enjoyed his conversation with the therapist and how it helps establish his point of view. His dark and sarcastic sense of humour is fantastic, I loved all his lines about being a virgin. - I’d have to weed out all the goths, not to mention (shudder) necrophiliacs – though at least this might solve the virginity problem. - loved this one! While reading...

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Patrick Samuel
18:34 Jul 24, 2022

Thank you, Kelsey. I really wanted to turn on its head the overused horror cliche of "characters who don't know they're dead". (There has been a couple of masterpieces in that subgenre and The Sixth Sense is NOT one of them.) Glad you appreciated the sarcastic humour. I suspect that deep down it's one of the reasons I write. It's definitely more of a crowd-pleaser on paper than in my day-to-day life.

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Patrick Samuel
17:41 Jul 25, 2022

BTW, I had a lot of fun writing that robbery sequence. I kept thinking of Al Pacino in "A Dog Day's Afternoon" (which I can never recommend enough) for its mix of clumsy comedy and drama.

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Kelsey H
09:24 Jul 26, 2022

I agree great movie!

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Rebecca Scott
00:17 Jul 24, 2022

Wow, what a story! I was engaged the entire time and I didn’t see that ending coming at all. I suppose that’s the point haha. Amazing work.

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Patrick Samuel
18:35 Jul 24, 2022

Thank you, Rebecca. I guess I was right after all to pick that story rather than the first one I had in mind :)

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Patrick Samuel
22:13 Jul 23, 2022

Zack, it's always a pleasure to read your feedback. Not just because it's infaillingly kind, but you always nail what I'm going for. And your favorite passages are usually the ones I'm rather pleased with myself. In short, you're my dream reader :) I tend to consider the ending of a paragraph even more important than its beginning - like the punchline to a joke, or the cliffhanger to an episode. This I believe is when you can make what came before truly resonate - even if you have to take a wild turn doing so. Not unlike the acid undertones...

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Zack Powell
21:14 Jul 23, 2022

Patrick! Another story from you, so soon? It's like Christmas in July. And what a story this was. I'm gonna try to address everything I can, but I know I'll miss some stuff. There's a LOT to unpack here. First of all, that ending! What a twist. I love that you ended the story on the word "alive" after all Nick's talk about being dead. Felt like the best writerly choice you could make, and you did it. Some nice irony to be had there, too. The last few paragraphs totally turned the whole story on its head, and I'm amazed how well you pulled t...

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