are you dead
are you dead
did you fall and hit your head
are you dead
are you dead
can you never leave your bed
are you dead
are you dead
did you hear what I just said
or are your eyelids broken
are your toenails rotting
Needless to say, the teacher did not appreciate my song. In fact, she didn't like it so much that she picked her whole desk up, stepped towards me, threw the desk out our fourth story classroom window and said, "Get out."
I said, "Will I be dead, dead, dead if I don't?"
And she promptly threw an eraser at me. It bounced off the end of my nose and fell to the floor. I laughed. Dead eraser. Song about being dead. I guess maybe it didn't fare well for the teacher of a school of recently dead ghost children. Oh well. I was never one for the overly sensitive. I walked down to the office and knocked on the door. My favorite secretary opened it and scowled. She was so darn pleased to see me she could hardly contain her joy. "Hello, darling." I always liked to flirt with authority figures, especially the secretaries.
This one, like most others, was not amused. She said, "What are you here for today, Julian?"
"I, ah, you know what?" I leaned against the desk. At first it was hard to not fall through things, but I got the hang of it as I moved on through the school's program. Classical ghost training blah blah blah. "I am here because I dared to defy the societal standards that have seemed to follow me even into the afterlife. Isn't that something?"
"That's not funny, Julian. This is what, your fourth visit to the office? You're not allowed to break the rules like that."
"'oH nuq jatlh ghaH."
"Don't speak Klingon in here, Julian. You know no one understands that."
"But that's the only way I can get away with it, babe. I know it's difficult to comprehend how such a dazzling kid like me could make so much trouble, but you'll have to face that sooner or later. If the truth of that is too grave for you, then you can still go. Live your life. I'll find another ride or... die." I grinned. "Like my joke there?"
She rolled her eyes. "No."
"Ah, you have no chill."
"Would you just go sit in that chair over there? He'll be with you any minute now."
I winked as I went to go sit down. "I'll sit wherever you want me to, Cynthia."
"Mrs. Lurnswall to you, Julian."
"Whatever you say, honey, whatever you say."
I sat down and bounced my almost transparent legs as I wished for the headmaster to step in, tell me what a bad ghost boy I was, and then send me back to class. Only that day he had an different plan up his sleeves and I had no clue, so I thought I'd keep flirting with danger (and Cynthia) for literal eternity.
The door swung open again and in walked my other favorite person at the school. MR. Lurnswall was the headmaster of the entire school, the worst disciplinarian known to ghost and man kind, and also he was married to Cynthia. We were practically family, in some weird, weird way. I loved the guy, so I stood up, smacked his across the jiggly head, and turned to vault out the nearest window.
He caught me by the floating ankles and pulled me back down to the office floor. Blame new ghost privileges, but I wasn't any good at flying yet. "Hey, my favorite guy!" I smiled broadly at him, hoping the grin accentuated my delightfully sharp cheekbones. At least those hadn't been ruined in the crash that killed me and landed me here.
“I can’t do this anymore, Julian.”
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”
“This isn’t the time for fun and games. I’ve had to make some complicated decisions in my past, but none like this.”
I planted hands on either side of my face, feigning utter disbelief. “Oh no! Did you have to choose meatloaf over egg salad in the cafeteria today?” A beat passed. “Oh wait. We’re dead. We don’t eat anything.”
“Ju-li-an…” Mr. Lurnswall dragged out the syllables of my name, “I’m sending you back.”
“What? Back where? To class?” I stood up to leave again. “That’s fine with me.”
He shook his jiggly walrus head and frowned, the wrinkles a side effect of a life well lived and a death long put off. Unlike me, he was old when he died. Unlike me, it was probably fair. “No. Back to Earth. You’re coming back from the dead. We reject you. I’m sorry. It’s the only thing I can think of because you are, simply put, too annoying for us to deal with. We’re giving you back.”
I chuckled. “You can’t just give me back to life. That doesn’t make sense. What will my parents think? They saw my body. They know I died. I did die! I’m dead. I have been for a while now. And my friends? Some of them were in the car with me when it crashed.” Read: when it was raining too hard for me to see my hands and I swerved off the road and plunged through the windshield because I was too lazy to fasten the seatbelt. “They’ll know it’s not real.”
“But it is real, Julian.”
I backed up really fast into the wall. If I was still breathing, that would have quickened. If I still had a heartbeat, that would have been racing. “Come on, man, don’t kid around like that. That’s impossible. First thing we learned at orientation was this was where we would be. There’s no going back. I can’t just get fired from being dead.”
“Well, then, hand in your resignation, because you can’t stay here.”
I turned blindly to Cynthia, all tones of flirtation erased. “Is that true? You don’t want me here anymore?”
“We never said we didn’t want you here. We just have other students to attend to and you keep disrupting the processes. We have Life After Death grieving procedures and you wrote a song about, well, your song was very morbid and upset a lot of the sensitive children here.”
“Yeah, well, that’s where you messed up! They’re just kids, of course the idea of being dead is going to upset them. Don’t you think I was upset? Maybe singing that song was a distraction from the reminder that I couldn’t see my parents every morning, that I couldn’t feel my body, that I knew my friends would probably forget me in two months.”
“Now you can go back and see them all again. Julian. This is a second chance. I’d advise you to not waste it.” The headmaster, dump him, smiled at me almost kindly. He mostly looked constipated, though. “Buckle up and enjoy the ride.”
I clutched the air, but I was already falling.
Or maybe I was spinning. Tripping? Tumbling?
Maybe I had no idea what was going on at all?
That was probably the best description.
I closed my eyes and when I opened them again I was sprawled in the yard in front of my house. I could feel all ten of my fingers, all ten of my toes. I could feel the wind slashing through my hair and my nose going numb from the cold winter breezes. I sat there for a minute. Should I go inside, I thought? Would anyone be there if I knocked on the door? What if I gave my mother a heart attack by being, you know, alive again? I stood up shakily and headed up the steep driveway, my feet finally dragging in the rough gravel again. Man, who thought I would’ve missed the gravel?
I did, though.
I missed it all.
I took deep breaths (breathing is really, really cool, guys) and arrived on my front porch. The last time I had been there I was escaping my family because they were being too loud. I wanted to talk to my girlfriend and my little brother kept poking me because he wanted to play Candyland. Well, needless to say, I did not play Candyland. I played go out with friends in bad weather and die and untimely and stupid death land and, take it from an expert, that’s a game that no one ever wins.
It was nerve wracking to think of how the time had gone by. It had already been almost seven months, but I had enough hope in me to believe my mom would still flip her lid if she saw me. Which she would, because I was lifting my hand to knock right as I thought that. One knock, and no one answered. Two knocks, and my dogs started howling bloody murder.
Three knocks, and I heard footsteps.
My heart (hello, beautiful) thudded uncontrollably in my ribcage and I pressed both palms to my chest in a prayerful stance. This was it. This was the moment of truth. I had already been fired from being dead. Would I manage to get rehired at being alive?
My mom didn’t open the door, but my brother did and that was almost more shocking. For him, for me, for the next door neighbors who heard us both screaming at the top of our lungs. Yeah, it was a community ordeal, pretty much a nationwide convention.
“You’re dead.” He backed up and started to slam the door but I caught it, grateful that I had come back alive with my famous guns intact. Man, my girlfriend loved my arms. That’s besides the point, but she really did. “You are dead, go away!”
“I’m not dead anymore, man. Look at me. I’m flesh and bones. I’m a milkshake and a burger with that. I’m Bert and Ernie. I’m peanut butter and jelly. I’m Superman and his Spandex. Dude. I’m Batman and Robin.”
“You’re really bad at comparisons! Maybe you are my brother.” His eyes got wide and round, like plates about to break, and he started screaming again. “MOM! MOMMY! MAMA! MOTHER! MADRE MIA BENDITA!”
My mother, of course, came crashing through the kitchen. When she saw me on the porch, she fell backwards and started screaming for my father, who was most likely sleeping this time of day. He came crashing slightly less loudly into the front room and when he saw me he fainted straight away.
The next few minutes were pandemonium, but I was rushed into the house and I sat on our old paisley couch and did my best to explain what had happened. It didn’t make sense coming out of my mouth, didn’t even make sense to my own ears, and yet my family listened to every word.
When I was done, my mother slapped me.
My brother threw his remote controller at me and then kicked me in the shins.
My dad chuckled despite himself.
My sister, who was a baby, took a dump in her diaper.
I took all these things as ways of saying welcome home, Julian.
And as nice as that reunion was (really, I hadn’t cried that much since watching Tinkerbell and the Neverbeast) I still had more people I had to get in contact with and I planned on starting with my girlfriend. She either was crying in her bed and thinking of me every minute of the day or had forgotten me and moved on to my best friend.
It could go either way with Victoria.
I headed to her house the next morning after sleeping in the living room, my whole family having fallen asleep on the couches after a late night of catching up. They said to go on ahead and talk to Victoria, though, that they would have food ready for me when I got back because I’d been eating non stop since last night. Eating, breathing, smiling and feeling your face hurt, there were so many little things I had taken for granted that I never would now.
I walked to her house; didn’t trust myself to drive even though the skies were clear. Her drapes were pulled closed and this made me nervous because, like I mentioned earlier, she could either have been mourning my loss alone or… not doing that. I hoped she was mourning. If I had stayed dead, of course I would have wanted her to move on, but now that I was here again, that would be a bummer. Though, there were so many secretaries alive… I shook my head. Flirting was fun, sure, but Victoria and I had a real connection. Like, an emotional connection. I know, I know, call me a crazy kid, but I honestly kind of loved her and hoped with all my beautifully loud heart she wasn’t dating someone else. I didn’t bother knocking on her door, but instead went around the back of the house and threw rocks at her wall (how cliche of me, I know) until Victoria opened the window and, understandably, fell face forward out of her house. Luckily: arms. I caught her and set her up on her feet and she closed her eyes and opened them, closed them and opened them until I said, “It’s real, I’m here.”
She pushed me to the ground and I said, “Ow, Ree.”
“Who hired you? Is this a joke? What’s wrong with you people?”
“No one hired me!” I threw my hands up in surrender. I also threw them there to keep from grabbing Victoria and carrying her back to her room. I missed her. I missed it all. “I’m not dead anymore. I’m not a ghost.” I took her hand as softly as possible, smiling against her palm. “See? Real.”
“It can’t be. You died. I watched you!” She pulled her hand away and held it to her heaving chest, sobs wracking her frame. “I was the one who rode the ambulance. No one else would, because they were scared of the blood and they were scared of catching death like it was contagious to fly through a windshield but not me. I knew you would want someone to watch you stop breathing. I knew if you had a last wish it would be for someone to hold your hands.”
“That’s true. You hit it right on the head. Do you know what I did? I remembered you calling me annoying trouble the minute before I swerved off the road and I used that for seven months and I bothered the people in charge of my ghost school so much they had to send me back. I didn’t think they would, but they did it. Here I am.”
I was crying too and the cool, almost frozen tears that slipped down my face, over my smiling lips, were the prettiest tears I’d ever seen because they were mine and I really was here and I was alive.
They were proof I had the second chance I never deserved.
I was dead
I was dead
Because I was dumb
I was dead
I was dead
And I couldn't feel my thumbs
I was dead
I was dead
And I missed the cold
I was dead
I was dead
And I would never grow old.
Now I'm alive
And I have a second chance
I have a new stance
To learn life's dance
And I won't waste it
Not for a minute.